A total of 23 mines across 11 states were targeted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration for special emphasis inspections in November, and one of them — an Illinois cement plant — was tagged with 53 citations and five orders.

Inspectors issued an order removing 12 miners from an Illinois mine until they had received adequate task training on maintenance of a coal hopper and on how to block it against hazardous motion, MSHA said in a news release announcing the results of its monthly impact inspections program.

The agency launched impact inspections following the Upper Big Branch-South Mine explosion nearly six years ago, aiming them at operations that MSHA deemed were experiencing a poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

Impact inspections were carried out at 17 coal mines and five other Metal/Non-Metal (M/NM) mines during the month. Besides the Illinois operation, two other M/NM operations and two coal mines also received citations in the double digits, while an Alabama coal mine received zero citations. Four coal mines received just one citation each. A total of 84 citations were written at the 17 coal operations, while the six M/NM mines received 53 citations and six orders. MSHA said the focus of the coal inspections was on compliance with respirable dust standards.

Since the April 2010 launch of the program, MSHA has conducted 1,064 impact inspections and issued 15,532 citations, 1,294 orders, and 57 safeguards. Safeguards generally are written over transportation compliance concerns at coal mines and, once approved, they become a mandatory requirement at the particular operation where they have been written.

An impact inspection often is a precursor to more stringent MSHA enforcement action. Operators should assure competent persons conduct thorough workplace examinations, as well as make certain that a miner is trained effectively before being allowed to undertake a new task. Operators also should track their enforcement history periodically on MSHA’s web-based monthly monitoring tool to assure the information is accurate and that the mine is not approaching agency thresholds for heightened enforcement activity.

The agency also reported that preliminary figures from 2015 show the fewest annual deaths ever recorded in U.S. mines. Twenty-eight miners died on the job during the year, 11 in the coal sector and 17 in metal/nonmetal the sector. The number is down from 45 deaths in 2014.