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Safety officials issue more than 2,600 citations in surprise mine inspections

The search for four missing miners ended Friday night, days after a methane explosion killed 29 at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal.

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By Kimberly Kindy
Monday, September 20, 2010; 7:18 PM

In response to a fatal explosion this spring in a coal mine with a long history of safety violations, federal officials have conducted 111 "blitz" inspections at dozens of coal and metal mines with similar histories over the past six months, officials announced Monday.

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During the surprise inspections, Mining Safety and Health Administration officials issued more than 2,660 citations for safety violations, 45 percent of them for "significant and substantial" safety hazards.

Ten of the mines targeted in the effort are owned by Massey Energy Co., the company that also owns the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners died in a fatal explosion on April 5.

Although the new effort is meant to force mines to improve mine safety, MSHA officials did not provide any specific information that would show if there have been any measurable improvements. In two cases, a second surprise inspection at a mine showed conditions had worsened.

To keep mines from quickly conducting last-minute spruce-ups, and to make the inspections a true surprise, MSHA officials have varied the time of their visits, driven unmarked government vehicles to the mines, and seized mine phones to keep miners who work on the surface from alerting those working underground.

"We are striving to make our inspections more strategic, less predictable and more effective," Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a prepared statement.

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