More Efficient Mine Penalty System Proposed

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Mine Safety and Health Administration has proposed a more efficient civil penalty system, to address safety and health issues among miners.
     Twenty-two miners were killed in mining accidents in the first half of 2014, the action reported. The accidents reversed the trend of declining fatal accidents in mines seen in recent years, the department said.
     After the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April 2010 that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has conducted impact inspections in 11 mines.
     Monthly "impact" inspections involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.
     The agency recently reported that in June, its inspectors issued 186 citations in the mines, finding problems such as accumulated coal dust that heightens the risk of explosions.
     Since it began the inspections in 2010, the agency has issued more than 12,000 citations and more than 1,100 orders against mines.
     Earlier this year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced initiatives to help prevent deaths, injuries and illnesses among miners, and this week proposed amending its civil penalty regulations.
     The proposed amendments aim to simplify the criteria for penalties so enforcement actions can be resolved earlier, and emphasize serious health and safety conditions.
     Currently, inspectors are required to make decisions about a mine's safety and health conditions based on five of six criteria under the law, including "gravity" and "negligence."
     The agency proposed reducing the number of "negligence categories" to three: "not negligent," "negligent," and "reckless disregard."
     In doing so, the agency hopes the "categories would improve objectivity and consistency in the evaluation of negligence, resulting in fewer areas of disagreement."
     Under the proposed amendments, the criteria would be simplified to put more emphasis on serious hazards and would increase the emphasis on negligence, violation history and severity.
     While the amounts of penalties and their distribution would remain mostly the same, the amounts of penalties for small metal and non-metal mines (i.e., not coal mines) would be decreased. Currently, the maximum penalty for "non-flagrant violations" is set at $70,000, which would not be changed by the rule.
     Penalties for "reckless disregard" violations that go beyond ordinary negligence, however, would be increased.
     Comments on the proposal can be submitted within 60 days of the rule's publication in the Federal Register.