MSHA Launches Investigation into Deadly Kentucky Mine Blast

The deaths of five Kentucky coal miners in a May 20 explosion has prompted the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to appoint a veteran investigation team leader to determine the cause of the incident.

The agency has appointed Thomas Light, MSHA's assistant district manager in New Stanton, Pa., to head the investigation into the explosion, which occurred at Kentucky Darby LLC's Darby Mine No. 1 site in Holmes Mill, Ky.

A 31-year veteran of the agency, Light has held numerous positions within MSHA, including field office supervisor, roof-control supervisor and mine inspector. Previously, he worked as a section foreman for Island Creek Coal Co.

"The MSHA investigation will thoroughly examine the scene of the mine explosion to determine the exact cause of the accident, so the families will know what happened and we can prevent this from occurring again," MSHA Acting Administrator David Dye said.

Light and his team will evaluate all aspects of the mine incident, including potential causes and compliance with federal health and safety standards. The team will examine the accident site, interview mine personnel and others with relevant information, review records and plans and inspect any mining equipment involved at the mine.

Once the investigation is complete, MSHA will issue a report summarizing the findings and conclusions of the investigative team, identifying root causes of the accident and how the incident unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that might exist will be cited at the conclusion of the investigation, according to the agency.

MSHA records indicate that Kentucky Darby LLC was cited three times this month and 38 times since 2001 for failing to clean up dust and other combustible material and for failing to frequently examine, test and maintain all electric equipment in addition to other violations.

Mine Safety, Fatalities Continue to Make Headlines

Last month, Kentucky passed new mine safety legislation that is scheduled to take effect in July. Last week, a Senate committee endorsed bipartisan mine safety legislation to improve rescue equipment and toughen penalties for safety violations, while Democrats from the House committee introduced a similar mine safety reform bill that builds on legislation introduced earlier this year by West Virginia's Congressional delegation. (See article: "Federal Lawmakers on Mine Reform: 'The Foot Dragging' Has to Stop")

The deaths of the five coal miners pushes the national coal mining death toll to 33, the worst in the country since 2001, when the fatal count was 42. This year's death toll already has eclipsed last year's toll of 22 coal miners.

The Darby Mine explosion is the worst mining disaster in Kentucky in nearly 17 years, according to MSHA data.

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