Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

MSHA Cracks Down on Repeat Safety Offenders

November 30th, 2010 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallIn a continued crackdown on coal mines with histories of serious safety and health violations, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has issued notices that 13 mines will be placed in a special stepped-safety enforcement program unless mine owners begin immediate corrective actions.

The mines were notified earlier this month that they were on the verge of being put in what is known as pattern of violations (POV) status because of chronic and persistent safety and health violations uncovered during inspections in the past 12 months. A POV status brings the mine under more intense scrutiny and gives MSHA broader power to stop mining operations and withdraw miners.

These notifications are the first MSHA has issued since it began reforming the pattern of violations program after the Bush administration, at the urging of the coal industry and with former coal industry executives running MSHA, changed the rules to make it harder to crack down on pattern violators. Says MSHA administrator Joe Main:

I have been saying since I arrived at MSHA that the POV system is broken. 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.

The mines notified by MSHA had an elevated rate of “significant and substantial” (S&S) violations and have been subject to closure orders, including closure orders for serious issues such as failing to correct violations after MSHA cites them. MSHA has established S&S violation rate-reduction goals for each mine that received a potential POV notification. If they do not meet those reduction targets, the mines will be placed in the POV program. Says Main:

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.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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