During one of Mr. Bob Murray’s endless television appearances, he was asked why his underground coal mine in Illinois had received more than 900 safety and health violations last year. In his “I’m just a humble coal miner” kind-of-way, he tried to explain that the public just doesn’t understand that getting written up by a mine inspector is commonplace, and most of those 900 violations were for trivial items like not having toilet paper in the restrooms.
Oh really? I reviewed all 975 violations cited in 2006 at Murray Energy’s coal mine in Galatia, Illinois, and only 3 of the 975 had anything to do with toilets or toilet paper. Instead, I identified more than 190 violations for having an accumulation of combustible material (i.e., piles of coal and coal dust), nearly 70 for electrical-system problems, and more than 50 for inadequate roof or rib control (i.e., to prevent cave-ins).
I also identified nearly 50 violations for problems with the mine’s ventilation system, nearly 40 for inadequate pre-shift, on-shift or weekly examinations of the underground mine, a few dozen for violating rules concerning the type of equipment allowed at the mining face (i.e., where methane gas is most prevalent), ten citations for inadequate rockdusting (which is critically important for preventing coal dust explosions) and 19 violations of regulations on escapeways and an evacuation plan.
I first read of Murray Energy’s Galatia Mine and its accumulated $1 million in civil penalties in my July 30 issue of Ellen Smith’s Mine Safety and Health News (MSHNews) The article read:
“The American Coal Co’s Galatia Mine in Galatia, Illinois has accumulated over $1 million in MSHA civil penalties since April 30 for violations found at the mine. Controlled by Robert E. Murray, MSHA records show that the company has $1,137,139 in assessed penalties in a 58-day period from April 30-June 27, and has been assessed a total of $1,461,450 since January of this year. …In 2006, the Galatia Mine received 958 citations and orders and so far this year 869. It is contesting the majority of the alleged violations.”
Before the Crandall Canyon mine disaster occured, I already had the Galatia Mine on my radar screen. Then after the disaster, I heard Mr. Murray try to explain away the citations assessed at his Illinois mine. (I remember the Galatia mine as one where MSHA experts were constantly being dispatched because of persistent mine fires. Galatia was pretty notorious for “spon-com” problems (i.e., spontaneous combustion.))
So, when I heard Mr. Murray suggest that most of those 900 citations last year at the Galatia mine were for trivial matters, like toilet paper shortages, I had to examine the data myself. Despite his claims, it’s irresponsible to argue (in a mine that is notorious for mine fires) that accumulation of coal dust, inadequate fire suppression systems and problems with rock dusting are nit-picky violations.
Why are they perceived that way? One reason may have to do with the long-standing MSHA penalty structure which handed out $55 (more recently $60 penalites.) Of the 194 violations for accumulated coal dust assessed in 2006 at Mr. Murray’s Galatia Mine, for example, about 120 of them were assessed only a $60 fine. (MSHA put a new penalty system in place in April 2007 which eliminated the single-penalty $60 fine. Just one violation of accumulated coal dust identified by an MSHA inspector in early July 2007, has a proposed penalty of $946. Mr. Murray’s company is contesting a majority of the citations assessed under MSHA’s new penalty structure.)
As far as Mr. Murry’s toilet-paper problem, the three violations which were cited in 2006 at the Galatia mine concerned 30 CFR § 75.1712-3 which requires “Minimum requirements of surface bathing facilities, change rooms, and sanitary toilet facilities.” The three specific rules require:
- All bathing facilities, change rooms, and sanitary toilet facilities shall be provided with adequate light, heat, and ventilation so as to maintain a comfortable air temperature and to minimize the accumulation of moisture and odors, and such facilities shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition. (Section (a))
- A suitable cleansing agent [soap] shall be provided for use at each shower. (Section ((c)(1)(iv))
- Adequate handwashing facilities or hand lavatories shall be provided in or adjacent to each toilet facility. (Section (c)(2)(v))
All of these violations were found in the mine’s bath house, the place where miners visit before and after their shifts to take care of nature’s call. Few coal mines have toilets underground.