June 15, 2007 The Pump Handle 4Comment

MSHA issued a news release yesterday announcing that eight mine operators have been put on notice for potential enforcement under the “pattern of violation” provisions of the Mine Act.  MSHA’s release does not list the names of the mining operations, but the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward is reporting that two of the mines are metal/non-metal operations and six are coal mines, including three in West Virginia.

In his written statement, MSHA’ Assistant Secretary Richard Stickler said:

“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.  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.”

This is an enforcement stick “maybe” because the regulations give the mine operators 90-days to reduce the number of “significant and substantial violations”(S&S)  identified by inspectors.  After that, MSHA officials will decide whether to issue a formal “pattern of violation” notice.  The pattern of violation regulations were issued in 1990 after a 10-year rulemaking and legal battle with mining trade associations and operators.  Critics of the existing regulations say Congress gave MSHA the authority to essentially shut down a mine after determing it had a pattern of S&S violations, but the 1990 rules allow mine operators endless appeals to avoid receiving the “patter of violation” classification.  To my knowledge, no mine operator has received the pattern of violation designation.

Stickler’s announcement says:

“If the 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 1) an inspection of the entire mine is completed and no S&S violations are found or 2) no withdrawal order is issued by MSHA in accordance with Section 104 (e)(1) of the Mine Act within 90 days of the issuance of the pattern notice.”

In a post last week (WANTED: A Stick for MSHA’s Stickler), I criticized the MSHA Asst. Secretary for not using the Mine Act’s enforcement provisions to punish mine operators who fail to control coal mine dust and put their workers at serious risk of developing coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (“black lung” disease.)   In this latest announcement, the MSHA chief is waving a stick, but hasn’t actually used it.

4 thoughts on “MSHA’s Stickler & A Stick (Maybe)

  1. Every time I hear anything about the mines I think of this song.
    Only the mining families can truly understand the price paid for those sooty black rocks. Maybe the punishment should be the owners are required to work down in the mines one month a year…I bet there would be no problem enforcing the codes and I just bet they would have a few of their own.


  2. Tammy,
    THANKS so much for connecting all The Pump Handle readers to this powerful video clip. Within 10 seconds I completely forgot that I was sitting at my desk in front of a computer. The chills are still running up my spine. I’m not a coal miner and don’t come from a coal mining community. I wonder what a miner’s or a family member’s reaction is to the video?


  3. I wish the media would quit spinning this topic. Regardless of what you may believe, or have been lead to believe, the mining industry, and in particular, the coal industry, is one of the safest industies to work in in the nation. As a R.P.E., I take the utmost care in the design and layout of the coal mines that I develop, as nearly every other engineer, manager, coal miner, etc. does in the industry. I do agree that yes, a few “bad” apples and unfortunate alignments of the stars have given the industry a bad name over the past few years. But on the whole, we are a VERY safe industry that takes pride in what we do. Do I agree with what Mr. Stickler is doing and the means that he is going about it? No, I do not. Even pre-Sago, the only other industry that had more regulation and enforcement was the meat packing industry. Now, I believe that we’ve even surpassed them. Now, we in the industry are facing fines of $5,000 or more for such trivial items such as a small rock laying on the ground since it could pose a tripping hazard? Am I saying that the rock shouldn’t be removed so that the tripping hazard is removed? No, I am not. But I would like to remind people that what we are talking about here are MINES, not pie factories. Webster’s defines a mine as “a pit or excavation in the earth from which mineral substances are taken.” Well, duh, you’re going to encounter a few rocks when that happens. There was no intention to go on a rant here, but I realize that’s what has happened. I just would like to remind people that if this spin on the mining industry continues, mine operators will not be able to continue doing business. And if you think the economy is bad now, wait until all of the quarries, coal, gold, silver, copper, iron, etc. mines start shutting down. I think every one will come around pretty quick.

  4. Dear VTMiner:
    Thanks for posting your comment on The Pump Handle. If you have a copy of an MSHA citation with an assessed penalty of $5,000 for a mine operator being written up for a “small rock laying on the ground since it could pose a tripping hazard” I’d love to see it and will gladly post it on The Pump Handle for the readers to see for themselves.

    I do believe you when you say you take the utmost care in the design and layout of coal mines. The serious hazards that I most often hear about are not with original design of the mines and ventilation, but rather, serious skimping on equipment maintenance (electrical circuits, belts, brakes, water sprays, etc) which contribute to deaths and serious injuries. Exactly because of the rugged nature of the workplace is maintenance, repair and replacement of tools, equipment and supplies necessary.

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