Using Flagrant Violation Policy, MSHA Issues $874,500 Fine

R&D Coal Co. became the first mine operator fined under MSHA's new flagrant violation procedures, and it was a whopper: $874,500 for alleged safety violations contributing to an Oct. 23, 2006, explosion causing the death of employee Dale Reightler, who was 43 when he died in the methane blast.

Reightler was detonating explosives inside the coal mine in Schuylkill County, Pa., when the blast killed him. "Mine operators that show reckless disregard for the well-being of their workers must be held accountable for their actions," Richard Stickler, MSHA's chief, said yesterday. "MSHA will not hesitate to assess stiff penalties against coal companies that fail to comply with safety and health regulations."

The agency's investigators cited 10 violations as directly contributing to the cause of the accident. Five of them received special assessments under the flagrant violation provision of the MINER Act, which 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." The penalty for each such violation can be as high as $220,000. MSHA said R&D failed to follow the provisions of the MSHA-approved roof control plan; failed to conduct a proper pre-shift examination of the mine before the work shift began; and failed to maintain an accurate, up-to-date map of the mine, among other violations. The flagrant penalties totaled $795,600, with the contributory penalties totaling $78,900.

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