The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a revision that it believes will strengthen its current pattern of violation (POV) program, allowing the agency to strengthen its hand to respond to dangerous mining conditions."
The rule was announced Jan. 17 by Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and has been submitted to the Federal Register for publication and will be subject to public review.
MSHA determined that the existing regulation does not adequately achieve the intent of the Mine Act that the POV provision be used to address mine operators who have demonstrated a disregard for the health and safety of miners. Congress included the POV provision in the Mine Act so mine operators would manage health and safety conditions at mines and find and fix the root causes of significant and substantial violations, protecting the health and safety of miners. MSHA says the final rule simplifies the existing POV criteria, improves consistency in applying the POV criteria, and more effectively achieves the Mine Act’s statutory intent. It also encourages chronic safety violators to comply with the Mine Act and MSHA’s health and safety standards.
Joseph A. Main, the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said that the patterns of violation rule is among MSHA's highest priority regulations.
“We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” Main said. “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.”
MSHA said the new proposed patterns of violation rules come from recommendations from the Labor Department's Office of the Inspector General and will strengthen MSHA’s ability to deal with troubled mines.
The revised rule retains the existing regulatory requirement that MSHA review all mines for a POV at least once each year; eliminates the initial screening and the potential pattern of violations notice and review process; eliminates the existing requirement that MSHA can consider only final orders in its POV review; and mirrors the provision in the Mine Act for termination of a POV.
In addition, in response to commenter concerns, the preamble to the final rule addresses MSHA’s Monthly Monitoring Tool for Pattern of Violations that operators can use to monitor their compliance performance, and MSHA’s commitment to requesting stakeholder input to revisions of the specific criteria. In response to commenters’ due process concerns the final rule allows that an operator submit a corrective action program; request a meeting with the district manager to discuss discrepancies in MSHA data; and request expedited temporary relief from a POV closure order.
Additional details can be found on the MSHA POV Fact Sheet.
In announcing the rule, Solis evoked the memory of the Upper Big Branch disaster, where a mine explosion took the lives of 29 Raleigh County miners.
“The tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine should not be forgotten,” Solis said. “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.”
The rule will become effective 60 days after being published in the Federal Register.