More mines face ‘pattern of violations’ crackdown

November 29, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

Here’s the news issued yesterday by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that four mining operations have received letters putting them on notice about 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. The PPOV screening from which these letters resulted represents the third since MSHA established the current criteria and procedures in September 2010.

The four mines that received warning letters are Ten-Mile Coal Co. Inc.’s No. 4 Mine in Harrison County, W.Va.; Pike Floyd Mining Inc.’s No. 3 Mine in Pike County, Ky.; Argus Energy WV LLC’s Deep Mine No. 8 in Wayne County, W.Va.; and Noranda Alumina LLC’s Gramercy Facility in St. James County, La.

In addition, two nonproducing mines have received warning letters that they will be subject to PPOV procedures once they return to active status. They are D & C Mining Corp.’s D & C Mining Corp. in Harlan County, Ky., and Hecla Mining Co.’s Lucky Friday Mine in Shoshone County, Idaho.

The MSHA release went on to say:

Fourteen other mines are under PPOV consideration while MSHA is verifying injury information self-reported by the operators to ensure accuracy.

MSHA did not name the other 14 mines, but I’ve asked them for a list.

The release continued:

MSHA implemented improved screening criteria in 2010 to better identify mines that have been subject to closure orders, including for serious issues such as failing to correct violations cited by MSHA, unwarrantable failures to comply with health or safety standards, failure to provide miners with required training and imminent dangers in the mine. The criteria better identify mines where these tools have been used but have not been sufficient to improve compliance. The criteria also consider whether a mine has a high number of significant and substantial, or S&S, violations involving elevated negligence as well as a mine’s injury severity rate, targeting operations that have an above-average injury severity measure.

As a result of the first screening under the improved criteria conducted in October 2010, MSHA issued 17 PPOV notices and one postponement letter to Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine. As a result of an October 2011 screening, MSHA issued eight PPOV notices and three postponement letters at mines that were in nonproducing status, inactive or abandoned.

“The revised potential pattern of violations program, along with other enforcement actions such as impact inspections, is making mines safer,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “The number of chronic violators meeting improved screening criteria has substantially dropped since we began implementing these criteria in 2010.”

In April 2011, Bledsoe Coal Corp.’s Abner Branch Rider Mine in Leslie County, Ky., and The New West Virginia Mining Co.’s Apache Mine in McDowell County, W.Va., became the first mines in the history of the Mine Act to be subject to the full effect of POV enforcement action and thus subject to 104(e) closure orders.

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