New criteria developed for screening mines
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has announced new screening criteria for the pattern of violations enforcement program, which gives the agency additional enforcement tools to use at mines with a history of violating safety standards.
This is a critical first step in reforming the current pattern of violations enforcement program, MSHA says. The agency announced plans to draft new regulations governing the program in the spring, and the new criteria follow calls by Congress and the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General to fix serious flaws in the current system.
MSHA will implement new screening criteria and a new review process for determining whether a mine has exhibited a potential pattern of violations for its 2010 review of mine safety records.
“Since the passage of the Mine Act more than 30 years ago, not one mining operation has ever been placed on a pattern of violations,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, in a prepared written statement. “We have known for some time that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed. This new screening process improves upon the old one, which cast too broad a net and did not distinguish mines with the highest levels of elevated enforcement. This new system will let MSHA focus its attention on those mines that are putting miners at greatest risk.”
“MSHA’s changes to the POV program cannot fix shortcomings that require legislation or changes to the existing regulations,” Main added. “This is a stop-gap measure until reform can occur. We are aggressively pursuing both regulatory and legislative reforms, but in the mean time this new policy improves our ability to identify problem mines. Our goal with each of these reform efforts is to identify mines with a pattern of dangerous conditions and encourage them to improve their safety records. If a mine fails to do so, it will be placed into POV status.”
Section 104(e) of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) provides that mine operators with a pattern of significant and substantial violations be subject to closure orders for areas of the mine affected by those violations until the mine receives a clean inspection. Under current regulations, MSHA uses a screening process to determine whether a mine has a potential pattern of violations. A mine operator found to have a potential pattern of violations is given a period of time to reduce violations before MSHA uses its authority under 104(e) to issue closure orders.
According to the legislative history of the Mine Act, POV provisions are intended for use “at mines with a record of repeated [significant and substantial] violations and where the other enforcement provisions of the statute have not been effective in bringing the mine into compliance with federal
health and safety standards.” The preamble to the existing final rule states that “MSHA expects to reserve the use of the 104(e) sanctions for mines where the operator has not responded to an escalating series of enforcement actions by the Agency.”
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