U.S. News

Regulators allege Massey Kentucky safety violations

NEW YORK, Nov 3 (Reuters Legal) - U.S. mine safety regulators have gone to court for the first time to force Massey Energy to address safety violations at one of its coal mines in Kentucky, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Labor Department said its Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was seeking a preliminary injunction in federal district court in the Eastern District of Kentucky against Massey’s Freedom Energy Mining Co and its Mine No. 1 in Pike County, Kentucky.

During eight regular inspections between July 2008 and June 2010, MSHA issued 81 orders for serious violations of safety standards including improper ventilation, failure to support the roof, failure to clean up combustible materials, failure to maintain electrical equipment and failure to conduct necessary examination of work areas.

The unprecedented action alleges that Freedom “is engaged in a pattern of violation of the mandatory health and safety standards of the Mine Act.”

There was no immediate comment from Massey, which has come under increasing scrutiny since 29 miners were killed in an explosion in April at its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

If the motion is granted, Freedom would be required to close its mine temporarily and take specific actions before it could reopen, the Labor Department said.

“Freedom Energy has demonstrated time and again that it cannot be trusted to follow basic safety rules when an MSHA inspector is not at the mine,” Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a statement.

“If the court does not step in, someone may be seriously injured or die.”

Labor Department Solicitor Patricia Smith said this was the first time the department had used this legal remedy. “It will not be the last,” she said. “The solicitor’s office will work closely with MSHA to ensure that we use every tool possible to keep miners safe.”

According to the brief filed by MSHA, Freedom Energy has a pattern of failing to examine and maintain critical areas of its mining operations.

The department said Freedom Energy Mine No. 1 is in a particularly dangerous coal seam that gives off massive amounts of deadly methane gas -- approximately 1.8 million cubic feet every 24 hours -- and is prone to roof falls.

In the past two years, seven miners have been injured there as a result of a falling roof and since August 11 this year, six major roof falls have occurred in the mine, it said.

It couldn’t immediately be determined who represents the parties in the litigation.

Reporting by Steve James of Reuters; Additional reporting by Terry Baynes of Reuters Legal