Maryland operator negotiates lower fines

MARYLAND producer Tri-Star has struck a deal to pay around half the fines it was issued over the deaths of two workers at one of its operations.

Donna Schmidt

According to the Associated Press, the company will pay $US100,000 of $180,000 in violation fines handed down by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration in August 2007.

The citations stemmed from the deadly April 17, 2007 collapse at Tri-Star’s highwall operation near Barton that buried 51-year-old Dale Jones and 38-year-old Michael Wilt beneath tons of rocks and dirt.

The pending settlement agreement is now under review by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, the news service said. An ILN request for comment from MSHA officials was not immediately returned.

When handing down the safety fines, MSHA said the mine’s negligence had contributed to the deaths of both men.

"Two miners lost their lives because federal safety laws were not followed," then-assistant secretary of labour for coal mine safety and health Richard Stickler said.

"Mine operators must be held accountable for their actions and MSHA will not hesitate to issue stiff penalties against companies that fail to comply with health and safety regulations."

In its investigation, the agency identified and cited Tri-Star with three contributory violations: a failure to establish and follow a ground control plan; a failure to correct hazardous conditions, allowing miners to work under dangerous highwalls and a spoil bank; and a failure to conduct adequate examinations of the highwall and spoil bank. Under federal regulations, each of those infractions carried a maximum $60,000 civil penalty.

In May 2006, the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety cited Tri-Star’s No. 1 mine 11 times for violations, including three it felt contributed to a miner's death the previous month.

David Chad Bolen, 28, died on April 20, 2006, after being crushed by debris while moving a shuttle car anchor at the operation. Bolen had only worked at the mine for two months and had three years of experience as a shuttle car operator.

Tri-Star was given 11 orders for non-compliance and closure. The three contributory violations referred to a pre-shift inspection failure on the part of the foreman as well as two charges relating to the operation's roof control plan.

The mine was cited six additional times for roof control plan violations and once more for an insufficient pre-shift inspection.

According to MSHA records, Tri-Star is owned by George Beener.