WASHINGTON (CN) - "In 32 Years MSHA Has Never Successfully Exercised Its Pattern of Violations Authority," read the title of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General's audit report of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's pattern of violations program.
The report came out five months after the 2010 accident at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., that ended in the deaths of 29 miners following an explosion. Flagrant safety violations ultimately contributed to a coal dust explosion, there, a 2011 MSHA report concluded.
The Inspector General's audit report pointed out that "the existing POV regulation created limitations on MSHA's authority that were not present in the Mine Act," upon which MSHA's authority relies, specifically, the MSHA had to warn the mine operators, further evaluate them over a period of time, and then create final citations and orders, to find that a mine operator had a pattern of violations that the agency could act upon.
The new rules enable the MSHA to move directly to action.
The U.S. Mine Rescue Association has recorded 613 mining fatalities across the country since 2002, including the 2010 Sago, Virginia tragedy that took 12 lives. More recently, in 2012, the MSHA shut down the Lucky Friday silver mine, located in Idaho's northern panhandle, following two fatalities in 2011 and repeated violations by Hecla Mining Company despite increased safety regulations, according to a January 2013 complaint filed by Hecla shareholders in an Idaho federal court.
The Department of Labor's MSHA not only shut the mine down, it issued 59 citations and levied a $1 million fine against the company, according to the complaint. The repeated violations will ultimately cost Hecla dearly, in the neighborhood of $50 million just to bring it back up to code, shareholders say.
According to the MSHA, the new rule simplifies criteria used to determine mines engaged in POV's, and the procedure involved in issuing POV notices. It will retain the mandatory annual MSHA review of all mines and eliminates the initial screening and the potential pattern of violations notice and review process.
The new rule is meant to allow "MSHA to focus on the most troubling mines, provide those operators with notice that they are out of compliance and review their health and safety conditions until they are improved."
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.