PA miner jolted with electrical violation fine

AN ADMINISTRATIVE law judge has sided with federal mining officials, ordering the operator of a Pennsylvania mine to pay a $110,000 fine for a violation of electrical hazard safety standards.

Donna Schmidt

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission said the violation by Rox Coal, which operates the Geronimo mine in Somerset County, was “quintessentially flagrant” after an investigation into an electrical accident at the operation.

The civil penalty stems from an October 3, 2007 incident in which a miner was shocked while changing the fuse on a high-voltage switch house.

According to investigators, the mine’s chief electrician had intentionally disabled the safety switch two days before sending the miner and a helper to change fuses, leaving the men working within inches of 7200 live volts.

The US Mine Safety and Health Administration found the condition to be a violation of a mandatory electrical safety standard pursuant to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

“According to 30 Code of Federal Regulations 75.512, all electric equipment shall be frequently examined, tested and properly maintained by a qualified person to assure safe operating conditions,” the agency said.

“When a potentially dangerous condition is found on electric equipment, such equipment shall be removed from service until such condition is corrected.”

MSHA found the violation to be significant and substantial and also very likely to result in permanently disabling injuries.

Investigators said the operator acted with “reckless disregard” in allowing the violation to exist and permitting miners to work in close proximity to high voltage electricity.

“Mine operators must take responsibility at all times to prevent conditions that can lead to accidents and injuries,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main said.

“Those who deliberately put miners’ wellbeing at risk must be held accountable.”

The ALJ agreed with MSHA’s assessment of the violation and maintained that a violation need not have been previously cited in order to be considered a “repeat” flagrant and assessed a civil penalty.

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 defines a flagrant violation as “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory safety and health standard that substantially and proximately caused, or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury” with a potential assessed civil penalty for each of $242,000.

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