MSHA Puts Eight Mine Operators on Notice

MSHA has placed the spotlight on eight mine operators from around the country, warning them that they may face sanctions if they don't improve their safety and health practices in their mines.

As part of an enhanced enforcement initiative, the eight mine operators received letters putting them on notice that each has a potential pattern of safety and health violations. If MSHA hits any of the operators with a pattern-of-violations notice, it would be the first in the history of the agency to be sanctioned for having a pattern of violations.

The eight mines on the list include two controlled by Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy Co. MSHA in April levied a record $1.5 million penalty against Massey Energy for 25 alleged safety violations that, according to the agency, contributed to the deaths of two miners in a Jan. 19, 2006, fire at Massey's Aracoma Alma Mine in Logan County, W. Va.

“The purpose of these letters is to put mine operators on notice about the repercussions they face if they repeatedly disregard mine safety and health regulations,” MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler said. “The ultimate goal is to restore effective safe and healthy conditions at these mines, and MSHA will not hesitate to use all the tools available to ensure compliance with the law.”

MSHA Can Withdraw Miners From Noncompliant Mines

A mine operator that has a potential pattern of recurrent significant and substantial (S&S) violations at a mine will receive written notification from MSHA. According to MSHA, an S&S violation is one that could reasonably be expected to lead to a serious injury or illness.

A mine operator with a potential pattern of S&S violations will have an opportunity to review and comment on the documents upon which the potential pattern of violations is based, and develop a written corrective action plan to reduce S&S violations at the mine and to avoid violations caused by imminent dangers, failure to abate previously cited violations and unwarrantable failures to comply with standards.

MSHA said that it will closely monitor the affected mines' compliance record during the ensuing 90 days.

If a mine operator significantly reduces its violation frequency rate, it can avoid being issued a notice of a pattern of violations. If the improvement falls short of the criteria, MSHA will issue the notice.

For each S&S violation found, MSHA will issue an order withdrawing miners from the affected area until the cited condition has been corrected.

An operator can be removed from a pattern of violations when:

  • An inspection of the entire mine is completed and no S&S violations are found or
  • No withdrawal order is issued by MSHA in accordance with Section 104 (e)(1) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act within 90 days of the issuance of the pattern notice.

MSHA used data from the most recent eight quarters to determine an active mine operation’s eligibility for notification of a potential pattern of violations.

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