U.S. blames mine owner for death of coal miner
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Flagrant safety violations at an Eastern Pennsylvania anthracite mine directly contributed to the death of a miner there last October, a federal investigation has determined.
"R&D Coal Co. Inc. failed to observe basic mine safety practices and violated critical safety standards. As a result, a miner tragically lost his life," said Richard E. Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health in a statement yesterday.
Dale Reightler, 43, of Donaldson, Schuylkill County, died Oct. 23 from injuries he suffered in a methane explosion during planned blasting at R&D Coal Co.'s Buck Mountain Slope Mine in Tremont, Schuylkill County. Six other miners were underground at the time, one of whom sustained minor injuries.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited R&D Coal Co.'s Buck Mountain Slope Mine for a number of violations in its investigative report released yesterday.
Among other problems, MSHA investigators said the mine operator failed to follow its approved ventilation and roof control plans, and failed to conduct a proper preshift examination.
The report also says the miners were not qualified to do the blasting, and the explosion was set off before miners had moved to a safe area.
Additional citations may be issued in coming weeks, said MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere, as the agency reviews other details, such as whether mine officials notified MSHA officials of the emergency in a timely matter.
A phone message left yesterday at the home of R&D Coal President David Himmelberger was not returned.
The citations are now being reviewed by MSHA's assessment office, which will set fine amounts. Under provisions of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response, or MINER, Act passed last year, flagrant violations can be assessed fines up to $220,000.
This is the first mining accident to fall under MSHA's new flagrant violation procedures.
In January, Pennsylvania mine safety officials ordered the mine closed and sealed after finding a number of safety violations leading up to the fatal explosion. They also revoked the certificates of three mine supervisors.
In revoking the mine's permit, state officials noted the similarity between last October's explosion and a December 2004 explosion at the mine that injured four.
After talking to former mine employees following Mr. Reightler's death, officials at the Department of Environmental Protection concluded that mine managers had misrepresented circumstances of the 2004 explosion.
First Published March 27, 2007 12:00 am