• MINER Act is No Minor Act
  • November 1, 2008 | Author: Stanford G. Wilson
  • Law Firm: Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP - Atlanta Office
  • All mine operators should be aware of tougher penalties for violations of safety rules imposed by the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Act (“MINER Act”). The MINER Act amends the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (“the Mine Act”) and is the biggest amendment in the Mine Act’s thirty year history.

    The MINER Act was passed in response to highly publicized accidents in coal mines, such as the Sago Mine accident. As a result, many provisions of the Act deal with emergency responses to accidents and apply only to coal mines. Despite this focus on emergencies in coal mines, operators of other types of mines are affected by the Act in important ways.

    Most importantly, the MINER Act increases the penalties that can be imposed on mine operators for safety violations. The penalties apply to (1) willful violations of a mandatory health or safety standard and (2) knowing violations of orders issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Previously, civil penalties for a first offense were capped at $25,000, and penalties for a second offense were capped at $50,000. The MINER Act substantially increases each of these penalties. First offenses are now subject to civil penalties of up to $250,000. For subsequent offenses, the civil penalties rise to $500,000.

    Criminal penalties remain the same under the MINER Act. Conviction for a first offense can be punished by imprisonment for up to one year. Conviction for subsequent offenses can be punished by up to five years imprisonment.

    The MINER Act also allows MSHA to impose civil penalties for “flagrant” violations. A flagrant violation involves a reckless or repeated failure to eliminate certain violations. The violation must be with respect to a known health or safety standard. Also, the violation must either have caused or be expected to cause a death or serious bodily injury. Flagrant violations can lead to penalties of up to $220,000.