DOL Issues Rule to Increase Miner Protection

With this new final rule, the Mine Safety and Health Administration can better regulate and address safety issues in the country's most dangerous mines.

The Department of Labor is responding a lack of safety in the country's most dangerous mines. Secretary of Labor Hilda S. Solis announced the final rule on the revisions to the Mine Safety and Health Administration's regulation of violations in an effort to protect workers in dangerous situations. The rule is being published in the Federal Register on Jan. 23.

MSHA will have the power to act more quickly when taking action against dangerous mines and negligent mine operators. Pattern of violations (POV) notices were previously required only in circumstances of "significant and substantial violations."

"This final rule represents one of MSHA's highest priority regulatory initiatives and one that addresses Congress' intent that this regulation encourage chronic violators to comply with the Mine Act and MSHA's health and safety standards," said Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, in a Department of Labor statement. "We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine. It promotes consistency in applying the POV notice as an enforcement tool, provides for a more open and transparent process, emphasizes operators' responsibility to comply with safety and health standards and monitor their own compliance, and more effectively achieves the statutory intent of the Mine Act."

Under the new rule, POV notices can be issued without the prerequisite potential POV notice. There is a more established procedure for identifying significant and substantial violations. It also will hold mine operators more accountable for miners' safety. According to Solis, the rule is an effort to prevent mine tragedies in the future.

"The tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine should not be forgotten. It exacted a terrible toll on the nation, coal miners' families and coal companies," she said. "Over the last three years, the Labor Department has undergone a serious and comprehensive evaluation of mine safety practices, and that has led to reforms to protect America's miners."

The rule also "clarifies that MSHA will consider a mine operator's effective implementation of an MSHA-approved corrective action program as a mitigating circumstance in its POV review, if the program contains definitive benchmarks implemented prior to POV notice, and the operator has reduced [significant and substantial] violations."

For more information, visit the MSHA website.

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