MSHA Unveils New Rules to Increase Safety in Coal Mines

By: Anna Baxter, The Associated Press, Amanda Barren Email
By: Anna Baxter, The Associated Press, Amanda Barren Email

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- The U.S. Department of Labor has approved new rules it says will improve safety at the nation's most dangerous mines by revising the way operators are designated pattern violators.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Thursday they improve the Mine Safety and Health Administration's ability to hold mine operators accountable for disregarding life-saving safety measures.

“The tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine should not be forgotten. It exacted a terrible toll on the nation, coal miners’ families and coal companies. Over the last three years, the Labor Department has undergone a serious and comprehensive evaluation of mine safety practices, and that has led to reforms to protect America’s miners. The rule we are announcing today will hold mine operators accountable when they disregard life-saving safety measures,” Secretary Solis said.

MSHA chief Joe Main says they're long overdue and could prevent 1,800 injures over 10 years.

The changes were proposed after the Upper Big Branch mine exploded in April 2010, killing 29 men.

"This final rule represents one of MSHA’s highest priority regulatory initiatives and one that addresses Congress’ intent that this regulation encourage chronic violators to comply with the Mine Act and MSHA’s health and safety standards,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine. It promotes consistency in applying the POV notice as an enforcement tool, provides for a more open and transparent process, emphasizes operators’ responsibility to comply with safety and health standards and monitor their own compliance, and more effectively achieves the statutory intent of the Mine Act.”

Among other things, they let MSHA designate a company a pattern violator without a prior warning.

They also eliminate the requirement that MSHA can consider only final orders, meaning its hands are no longer tied when operators appeal violations.

In a news release, U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller praised the new set of federal rules.

“It was clear after Upper Big Branch that some companies were violating lifesaving mine safety requirements over and over again,” said Rockefeller. “I said then that I would work to reform and strengthen these rules so that mine operators who are repeat offenders stop shirking their responsibilities and start running mines that are fit for people to work in -- and I’m keeping up that fight.”

The following are among the final rule’s major provisions:

  • Allows MSHA to issue a POV notice without first issuing a potential POV notice.
  • Eliminates the existing requirement that MSHA can consider only final orders in its POV review.
  • Establishes general criteria and procedures that MSHA will use to identify mines with a pattern of S&S violations.
  • Reinforces mine operators’ responsibility for compliance with MSHA safety and health standards and for monitoring their mines’ compliance.
  • Clarifies that MSHA will consider a mine operator’s effective implementation of an MSHA-approved corrective action program as a mitigating circumstance in its POV review, if the program contains definitive benchmarks implemented prior to POV notice, and the operator has reduced S&S violations.
  • Restates the statutory requirement that, for mines in POV status, each S&S violation will result in a withdrawal order until a complete inspection finds no S&S violations. talked to Pam Napper who lost her son, brother and nephew in the UBB explosion.

    Napper says that she is pleased to know there are new regulations and hopes that they are enforced.

    "I would like to see stronger rules, regulations, the new things they are coming up with, so other families don't have to go through what we went through," Napper said.

    The following statement was released by Senator Joe Manchin:
    “A strong mining industry begins with a strong commitment to our miners,” Senator Manchin said. “Our coal miners are some of the hardest working people in America, and they are proud to do the heavy lifting that keeps this country strong. In our state, we’re absolutely and totally committed to the safety of every worker – and that means that every worker in our state should be able to get up in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night. This new rule is another step forward in making sure that we protect our miners and the integrity of our coal industry.”

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