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Three mines on hook for pattern of violations

TWO mines in West Virginia and one in Kentucky have been hit with the US Mine Safety and Health Administration’s first pattern-of-violations notices since the agency instituted new outlines for federal POV rules in March.

Donna Schmidt
Three mines on hook for pattern of violations

On MSHA’s radar as a result of its first POV screening are Tram Energy’s No. 1 mine in Floyd County, Kentucky, Brody Mining’s Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, West Virginia, and Pocahontas Coal’s Affinity operation in Raleigh County, West Virginia.

The new rules, which improve federal officials’ capabilities when a pattern of violations is encountered under the mandates of Section 104(e) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, became official March 25.

MSHA said that its POV review included all of the nation’s 14,600 mines, and that it is still reviewing injury records for several mines to determine if more mines should be added to its POV list and receive notification.

At Tram Energy’s Mine No. 1, federal inspectors issued 120 S&S (serious and substantial) violations during the POV review period, and more than half of those had an elevated level of operator negligence.

“MSHA issued 40 closure orders at Tram Energy during the POV review period, the most of any mine in the country,” the agency said Thursday.

“The company has incurred approximately $US170,000 in civil penalties since it began operating in 2012. All but $666 is unpaid and delinquent.”

At Brody Mining’s Mine No. 1253 S&S violations were issued during the review period, and an MSHA audit of the operator’s records found that miner injuries resulted in 1757 lost work days – 367 from eight lost-time injuries that Brody Mining failed to report to MSHA.

“The company was also audited during the 2012 POV screening process,” MSHA noted.

“In that audit, MSHA found 29 injuries Brody Mining failed to report and 724 unreported lost work days.”

Finally, at Pocahontas Coal’s Affinity operation, 124 S&S violations were issued during the review period. A quarter of those, the agency said, involved high negligence or reckless disregard for the health and safety of miners.

“Two miners died in separate accidents during the review period; the fatalities occurred within two weeks of each other and both involved scoops,” officials said.

“Affinity Mine received 35 closure orders during the review period, the third highest in the country.”

New federal rules for POV notices eliminated MSHA’s requirement to consider only fully adjudicated orders in its reviews and shifted the responsibility for monitoring compliance to the mine operator.

MSHA also now requires operators to submit corrective action programs to address POV-potential issues proactively.

“MSHA’s new POV rule, which we will vigorously enforce, enhances protections for miners and shifts the responsibility for monitoring compliance and taking action to prevent POV enforcement actions to the operator,” assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.

“The decrease in the number of operators meeting the POV criteria shows that the POV process is working–many operators are cleaning up their acts, even when MSHA is not looking over their shoulders.”

Under the Mine Act, MSHA is authorized to issue a POV notice to mine operators that demonstrate a disregard for the health and safety of miners through a pattern of significant and substantial violations.

POV notices are reserved for mines posing the greatest risk to miner safety.

Moreover, the Mine Act requires mines that receive POV notices to be issued withdrawal orders – effectively ceasing operations – for all S&S violations.

Officials said that no mines were placed on POV for the first 33 years the mandates were in effect.

The latest POV notices mark the third year in a row that MSHA has used the enforcement tool.

According to federal data, 53 mines were identified for review in 2010, and 17 potential POV notices and two POV notices were issued as a result.

In October 2011, a screening resulted in the review of 39 mines and the issuance of eight potential POV notices.

In 2012, MSHA identified 20 mines and issued four potential POV notices.

This year, the agency identified nine operations for additional review.

“The improvements made in 2010 to the screening criteria were designed to help MSHA better identify the mines that present the greatest risks to miners, and the criteria has remained largely unchanged since they were implemented,” MSHA said.

Patriot responds

Within hours of the announcement Thursday, Brody Mining owner Patriot Coal – which took over the complex last December – responded that it did not agree with MSHA’s assessment.

“Prior to that time [before the acquisition], Brody was owned and operated by an independent company,” Patriot officials said.

“Many of the violations and the severity measure cited in the POV finding took place under the prior owner.”

The producer said that, immediately following its Brody on January 3 of this year, a Compliance Improvement Plan (CIP) was submitted to MSHA.

Since that time, it said, the Brody mine compliance performance (as measured by violations per inspector day) has improved by 40%.

It also replaced all former officers and key mine-level managers at the complex shortly after wrapping up the purchase.

On September 6, Patriot submitted a CIP to federal officials to further improve Brody’s safety and compliance. MSHA approved the documentation on September 17.

“During the period of time it has operated as a Patriot subsidiary, the Brody mine has made considerable and measurable progress toward improved safety and compliance,” Patriot officials said.

“Patriot firmly believes that the Brody mine does not qualify for POV status, and the company intends to vigorously contest the POV finding.”

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