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Ouray County Mine Cited for Nearly 100 Safety Violations

Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA http://tinyurl.com/4kprz)

Update Friday, December 20: According to the Watch newspaper, MSHA says the 97 citations handed out to Star Mine Operations in the first week of December were issued during so-called "spot" inspections, and weren't issued as violations that contributed to the deaths of two men at the Revenue-Virginius mine in late November. 

MSHA Spokeswoman Amy Louviere told the Watch a full report on the cause of the accident will be released when the federal investigation is finished.

Original Post, Thursday, December 19:

Federal Mine Safety officials have issued nearly 100 orders or citations to Star Mine Operations, the company that owns a silver mine near Ouray where two miners died last month, after being exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a total of 97 citations in the first week of December. 43 of those have so far been "terminated," meaning the company's already fixed those problems, but others remain.

MSHA cited the company on 15 counts for how it was handling and storing explosive materials.

"That's a pretty high number in my opinion," says Bob Ferriter, a Senior Safety and Health Specialist at the Colorado School of Mine's Mine Safety Program.

He says after an accidental death, MSHA investigators dig through the mine for anything that might've caused the accident.

"I think you could probably speculate that that number of citations on the explosives had a large influence on the severity of the accident," he says.

Mine Manager Rory Williams previously told reporters a triggered explosion in the mine could've released the carbon monoxide gases that killed the miners, but of course that's yet to be confirmed as the investigation continues.

MSHA also handed down 12 orders for the mine to correct dangerous working conditions, along with a handful of citations on improperly-maintained escapeways and refuge areas. Federal guidelines say miners have to be able to get to one of those refuge areas within 30 minutes from wherever they're working in the mine.

But perhaps the most significant safety measure the mine violated was making sure all miners carry self-rescue devices with them.

Bob Ferriter says these mini-oxygen tanks are essential for protecting miners from harmful gases, explosions or fires.

"And if these were not being maintained or something, that would be rated as a severe citation," he says, adding that in the case of a serious deficiency, MSHA can close a mine or withdraw miners until the company fixes the problem.

MSHA still hasn't said how much the mine will have to pay in fines or fees. 

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