MSHA announces new ‘pattern of violations’ list

November 19, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

More just in from MSHA:

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration announced today that 13 mines from around the country received letters putting them on notice that each has a potential pattern of violations of mandatory health or safety standards under Section 104(e) of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. These are the first mining operations to receive such notification since MSHA implemented major reforms to its POV process, including tougher provisions for mines with chronic and persistent health and safety violations. A 14th mine, Upper Big Branch, met the criteria, but actions have been postponed until MSHA’s investigation into the April 5 explosion is complete.

“I have been saying since I arrived at MSHA that the POV system is broken,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “This screening represents a positive step forward, but it won’t be the only step. POV is on MSHA’s rulemaking agenda, and there are also statutory changes pending before Congress that would further improve the system.”

Main also noted that the review process is not finished. “Once MSHA completes a thorough auditing, there may be more mines put on notice for a potential POV,” he said. Audits are being conducted at mine operations that appear close to qualifying for a potential POV to track any underreporting of mine accidents and injuries.

MSHA’s screening process, which covers enforcement actions during the 12-month period ending Aug. 31, 2010, identified mines with an elevated rate of significant and substantial, or S&S, violations. It also identified those that have been subject to closure orders, including closure orders for serious issues such as failing to correct violations after MSHA cites them, unwarrantable failures to comply with health or safety standards, failure to provide miners with required training and imminent dangers in the mine. Under the new criteria, MSHA also considered whether a mine has a high percentage of S&S violations involving elevated negligence, as well as a mine’s injury severity rate, targeting operations with an above-average injury severity measure.

Mine operators can choose to institute a corrective action program with concrete, meaningful measures to reduce their S&S violations; achievable benchmarks and milestones for implementing the program; management oversight to ensure the program is being instituted and followed; and measures to find and fix the mine’s specific compliance problems. Mines that implement a corrective action program will be required to meet the prescribed goals within a maximum of 110 days of receiving potential POV notification, depending upon when a corrective action program is submitted to MSHA.

Operators that do not choose to implement a corrective action program will be required to achieve the prescribed goals set by MSHA within 50 days of receiving a potential POV notification.

MSHA has established S&S violation rate-reduction goals for each mine that received a potential POV notification. In order to avoid receiving a POV notice, mines that do implement an appropriate corrective action program must reduce the S&S frequency rate per 100 inspection hours by 50 percent from the mine’s rate during the 12-month review period, or to a rate within the top 50 percent for all mines of similar type and classification. Mines that do not implement an appropriate corrective action program must reduce the S&S frequency rate per 100 inspection hours by 70 percent from the mine’s rate during the 12-month review period, provided such reduction is below the national rate for all mines of similar type and classification during the same period, or to a rate within the top 35 percent for all mines of similar type and classification.

Previously, mine operators were required to achieve only a 30 percent reduction to avoid POV actions and were not required to meet benchmarks where corrective action programs were used. Mines that failed to meet the requirements would be subject to the POV, at which point every S&S violation would result in an automatic closure order until the violation was abated. Mines would remain on POV status until a complete inspection found the mine free of S&S violations.

“Along with impact inspections and injunction actions, POV represents an important enforcement method for MSHA to change the behavior of mine operators who don’t take seriously the health and safety of miners,” said Main.

There’s a complete list of the mines here.

2 Responses to “MSHA announces new ‘pattern of violations’ list”

  1. rhmooney3 says:

    What MSHA is doing it could have done sinces its beginning.

    If MSHA wants to really be serious, setup an internal investigation squad to make itself more accountable. Police and other law enforcement departments do it, so should regulatory agencies.

    ===

    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=12196826

    (Excerpts)

    Federal regulators late Friday warned 13 mining operations in seven states, including two owned by troubled Massey Energy Co., to show improvement on safety or face stricter enforcement.

    The Mine Safety and Health Administration says a 14th mining operation, Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia, also meets the criteria for inclusion on the list that might qualify as having a pattern of serious violations.

    But the agency says actions against Upper Big Branch and a Massey subsidiary, Performance Coal Co., are on hold until the completion of an investigation into an April blast that killed 29 men.

    Virginia-based Massey said it will review the documents that the agency used to formulate its list, discuss the violations with officials and take corrective action.

    —-

    The 13 sites identified as potentially having a pattern of serious violations include four coal mines in Kentucky, three in West Virginia and two in Tennessee. Illinois, Alabama, Montana and Nevada have one such location apiece, according to the agency.

    The operations are the first to be considered for the status under new screening criteria designed to make it easier to crack down on mines with a history of safety problems.

    The agency changed its criteria for the list after a computer error allowed Upper Big Branch to escape notice.

    —-

    Main said MSHA’s review process is not finished. Once a thorough audit is complete, more mines may be put on notice as potential pattern violators.

    The agency now screens for mines with at least 50 citations for so-called significant and substantial violations within the past year and high rates of severe injuries, among other things. Friday’s list was culled from enforcement actions during the 12-month period ending Aug. 31.

    If the mines on that list don’t show improvement, they face harsher enforcement.

    MSHA will order miners out of the operation each time an inspector finds a serious violation, effectively cutting off production. In modern mining, halting production quickly results in losses because revenue drops even as fixed costs such as salaries stay the same.

    Mines can get back into MSHA’s good graces if they adopt a corrective action program “with concrete, meaningful measures” to reduce violations, as well as “achievable benchmarks and milestones for implementing the program,” the agency said.

    Those that implement such a plan would have no more than 110 days to meet the goals.

    Operators that don’t embrace a corrective action plan must fix problems identified by MSHA within 50 days.

  2. rhmooney3 says:

    http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101119/NEWS01/311190098
    (Excerpts)

    Left Fork Mining Co.’s Straight Creek No. 1 Mine has been under heightened surveillance by federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors for safety problems, including excessive accumulations of coal dust.

    Between Nov. 1, 2009, and Oct. 31, 2010, its 92 closure orders were the most among about 14,500 mining operations nationwide.

    —-

    Straight Creek, which employs 118 people, was ordered by a federal judge in May to stop alerting miners to surprise federal inspections — a violation of the law.

    On Oct. 29 of this year, a nine-member MSHA inspection team descended on the mine. Two inspectors seized the telephones to make sure no underground miners knew MSHA was on the premises, according to the agency.

    During that inspection, Straight Creek was issued 15 citations and five orders. Ninety percent of the violations were considered significant and substantial, the most serious kind, MSHA records show.

    “One of the lessons we’ve learned is that business as usual won’t change the behavior of mine operators who game the system and refuse to take seriously their responsibility for miners’ safety and health,” Main said in a statement. “This has been a wake-up call for even the most resistant mine operators.”

    Oppegard said Main is holding the mines’ “feet to the fire.”

    “Joe Main has changed the mentality of the agency, he’s bringing it up back to where it should be, and that is to protect miners’ lives,” Oppegard said.

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