Feds find egregious safety violations at US mines
* Surprise visits by federal inspectors
* Violations on mine ventilation, combustibility
By Steve James
NEW YORK, Aug 24 (Reuters) - More than four months after the worst U.S. mining accident in decades, federal mine officials have uncovered safety violations during surprise inspections at four underground coal mines, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said on Tuesday.
"It is appalling that our inspectors continue to find such egregious violations, especially with the explosion at Upper Big Branch still fresh in everyone's minds," said Joseph Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.
The mine inspections in the last three weeks came as MSHA investigates the explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey Energy's MEE.N Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5 -- the worst U.S. mine accident in 40 years.
"MSHA will continue to target mines with enhanced inspections ... particularly at mines that display a disregard to miners' safety and health," Main said.
The federal agency said it carried out "impact inspections" recently at four coal mining operations in three states "where unsafe practices and conditions are suspected."
It said inspectors commandeered company phones to prevent surface personnel from notifying workers underground of the inspections, which occurred during shifts when MSHA enforcement personnel were least expected. Continued...