Conducting special inspections to crack down on mines with poor safety records appears to be working, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said.
The agency said it issued 250 citations and orders during so-called impact inspections at 22 mines across the country during November.
The number of orders and citations decreased from 380 issued to 19 mines in October.
"MSHA's impact inspection program is helping to reduce the number of mines that consider egregious violation records a cost of doing business," MSHA director Joe Main said.
MSHA begin conducting surprise inspections after 29 West Virginia miners died in an explosion at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch coal mine April 5. Upper Big Branch is the deadliest U.S. coal mine disaster since 1970 and the subject of criminal and civil investigations.
The inspections have been carried out more like raids in some cases, with MSHA arriving after normal working hours and after taking control of telephones to prevent mine operators from warning employees that the agency had arrived.
MSHA conducted an impact inspection at one Massey mine in West Virginia during November. The agency found few problems at the company's Pocahontas Mine. An electrician was run over by a piece of heavy equipment and killed at the Greenbrier County mine in July.
MSHA inspectors issued just one citation during an impact inspection at the mine in November.
A Massey spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
MSHA focused on the nation's eastern coalfields in November; nine of the coal mines inspected were in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama. The agency also inspected coal mines in Indiana and Colorado.
MSHA said it conducted special inspections of non-coal mines in Illinois, Arizona, Oklahoma, California, Nevada, Washington and Ohio.
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