Federal mine safety regulators have discovered false reporting of accidents and injuries at two West Virginia coal mines once owned by Massey Energy, which also owned the mine hit by a deadly explosion last year.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the Randolph and Justice No. 1 mines in Boone County, W.Va., inaccurately reported or neglected to report 24 injuries last year that resulted in 1,125 lost days of work.
If the injuries had been reported accurately, MSHA says, the mines would have been placed on a watch list and targeted for greater scrutiny. The watch list, known as the Potential Pattern of Violations list, requires efforts to reduce serious safety problems. If the problems persist, the level of scrutiny increases and the mines face immediate shutdowns when inspectors issue citations for safety failures that could cause injury or death.
MSHA suspected the deception and demanded internal Massey injury and accident reports. When the company refused, MSHA filed a complaint with an administrative law court, which ruled in the agency's favor.
Massey has since been taken over by Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha did not own or operate the mines when the false reporting took place. An Alpha spokesman tells NPR that the company is tracking down more information about the mines.
The Randolph mine was cited earlier this year for 25 serious safety violations that forced evacuation of areas of the mine and exposed miners to "serious risk to the threat of fire, explosion and black lung," according to federal mine safety chief Joe Main.
"The conduct and behavior exhibited when we caught the mine operator by surprise is nothing short of outrageous," Mainsaid.
Injuries and accidents were also under-reported at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine before the massive explosion in April 2010 that killed 29 mine workers.
MSHA has also demanded accident and injury records for two coal mines owned by Peabody Energy. The company has refused to provide the records for an Indiana mine and has been levied $4,000 a day in civil fines since June. MSHA says the fines will continue until Peabody complies.