• Federal Mine Safety Agency to Increase Enforcement
  • March 30, 2015 | Authors: Henry Chajet; Donna Vetrano Pryor
  • Law Firms: Jackson Lewis P.C. - Reston Office ; Jackson Lewis P.C. - Denver Office
  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration is intensifying its enforcement efforts at facilities that exceed the industry average in the number of violations of standards covered by the “Rules to Live By” program, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main announced on February 25, 2015.

    In 2010, MSHA began the Rules to Live By program to prevent common causes of fatalities. It focuses on 28 coal standards and 19 metal and nonmetal standards.

    Main also announced a new web-based tool to monitor the number of Rules to Live By violations at a facility, in comparison to the industry average. He stated that operators with violations that exceed the industry average risk additional impact inspections or spot inspections.

    The webpage will display the number of Rules to Live By violations during the last inspection quarter for underground mines and the last six-month inspection period for surface mines. It will list the specific Rules to Live By standards cited by MSHA and the number of times the mine was cited for such violations during that inspection period, as well as provide a comparison between the mine’s average number of violations based on MSHA inspection hours for that inspection period and how it compares to the national average.

    Mine operators should monitor this calculator regularly and develop programs to prevent repeat violations of the Rules to Live By. These programs can and should be discussed with MSHA inspectors and district management to demonstrate good faith and commitment to safety and compliance. The programs should include training, internal safety audits, reviews of procedures and policies, and enforcement of company safety rules and procedures through employee counseling and discipline.

    Main also announced a new web-based tool that tracks compliance of nine standards associated with hazardous conditions that pose the greatest risk to underground coal miners. In April 2012, MSHA published a final rule on Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards, which requires mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions and violations of nine health and safety standards. These nine standards address ventilation, methane, roof control, combustible materials, rock dust, equipment guarding and other safeguards. This should also be monitored by operators and included in programs to prevent repeat violations.

    Of course, mine operators should evaluate the accuracy of the MSHA website data regularly, given prior experiences with inaccurate MSHA data that required requests to MSHA to correct its pattern of violations (POV) website. Finally, mine operators should prepare upper management for press inquiries about the new, publicly available web site data. Developing pre-inquiry draft responses and explanations may help put the data in proper perspective once press inquiries are received.