U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors handed out 200 citations for safety hazards last month, including 52 at a single facility in Kentucky.
But the number of violations found is less disturbing than the nature of some. Earlier this year reports by MSHA, the United Mine Workers union and a panel of West Virginia state investigators examined what caused the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Twenty-nine miners died in the blast at a southern West Virginia mine that had been cited repeatedly by MSHA.
Among problems cited in the reports were improper ventilation that allowed methane gas to build up.
According to MSHA, its inspectors found improper ventilation procedures at one Kentucky mine. At another, where the large number of citations were issued, the agency discovered a bearing on a piece of equipment that was so hot it was glowing red - as explosive coal dust floated in the air.
A report on the Upper Big Branch disaster was not needed to tell most miners and coal companies of the hazards of their business. Most are well known.
But some mines and some companies continue to take risks. In November, MSHA revealed it had put eight mines "on notice for potential patterns of violations."
Four of the eight were in southern West Virginia, with one each in Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois and Nevada.
During the past five years alone, 298 miners have died in U.S. coal mines, both underground and surface. Clearly, some miners and some mining companies have learned virtually nothing from those fatalities, or from MSHA's stepped-up enforcement efforts.
If it takes shutting down repeat violators, MSHA - or state agencies in West Virginia and Ohio - should do just that. Mining is dangerous enough when the rules are followed. Scoffing at them is inviting tragedy, and simply cannot be tolerated.