MSHA releases safety final rule

SIX months after releasing a proposed rule to revise civil penalties for mine operators, including fine amounts and implementation, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued its final rule on the subject and filed it in the Federal Register.

Donna Schmidt

“This final rule will increase mine operator compliance with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), as amended by the MINER Act, and the agency’s safety and health standards and regulations, thereby improving safety and health for miners,” the agency prefaced in the rule released Thursday.

The 56-page document, formally called 30 CFR Part 100: Criteria and Procedures for Proposed Assessment of Civil Penalties; Final Rule, will go into effect in 30 days (April 23) with maximum fines increasing to $US220,000. The top charge would be for flagrant violations, or those the agency deems “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory health or safety standard that substantially and proximately caused, or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury”

The lowest fines MSHA previously gave, $60 for minor violations, have also been struck from the regulations and replaced with minimum penalties of $2000 to $4000. Additionally, any operator who does not report an emergency situation in a rapid fashion could face penalties of $5000 to $60,000.

“Penalties are one of many tools that Congress approved to ensure a safe and healthful workplace for miners,” labor assistant secretary Richard Stickler said in a statement regarding the increased fines, which will be installed across the board.

“MSHA has structured the final rule so that higher penalties will induce operators to prevent and correct violations and be more proactive in their overall approach to miner safety and health, as well as target the most serious safety and health violations with escalating penalties.”

A total of eight “special assessment” categories will also be removed from the new regulations, but MSHA said it will “retain authority to specially assess penalties for other violations, as appropriate”. Ten days have also been outlined to convene for safety and health conferences.

MSHA initially published its proposed rule on the subject last September. During the open discussion period through October 23, the agency received written comments and also held six public hearings in Arlington, Virginia; Birmingham, Alabama; Salt Lake City, Utah; St Louis, Missouri; Charleston, West Virginia; and Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. After the initial comment period closed, MSHA extended it once more to November 9 due to clarified language and omission of the existing single-penalty assessment provision.

A PDF version of the final rule can be downloaded at http://www.msha.gov/REGS/FEDREG/FINAL/2007finl/07-1402.pdf.

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