MSHA Chief Boosting Efforts to Collect Unpaid Fines

Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo writes that MSHA will increase its efforts to collect unpaid fines. Since the Scofflaw Program began in 2007, about $67 million in delinquent penalties have accrued, yet MSHA has issued only 16 citations since 2007 for failure to pay final penalties and only five orders requiring a mine to shut down operations while continuing to pay miners their wages.

David G. Zatezalo, assistant secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, announced he will strengthen MSHA's Scofflaw Program, which was created in 2007 to increase collections of unpaid fines. Writing in a March 6 op-ed for The Intelligencer Wheeling News Register, Zatezalo called mine safety and health penalties issued under the federal Mine Act "an important reminder of the need to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for America's miners. When penalties are assessed, full and timely payment of fines must be a routine matter for all mine operators — just as it is for drivers who violate the rules of the road."

Saying that most mine operators take seriously their safety responsibilities, maintaining safe working conditions, correcting problems, and paying safety and health penalties on time, some do not, he wrote, addding that this can gain them an unfair competitive advantage over other operators.

"Uncollected fines combined with continued violations show disregard for the law and our nation’s miners. For this reason, I am taking action to strengthen MSHA’s Scofflaw Program, which was created in 2007 to pursue the collection of unpaid fines," he wrote in the op-ed, which was also posted on the MSHA website the following day.

Since the program began, about $67 million in delinquent penalties have accrued, yet MSHA has issued only 16 citations since 2007 for failure to pay final penalties and only five orders requiring a mine to shut down operations while continuing to pay miners their wages.

"The status quo is unacceptable and must change," he wrote. "Beginning immediately, MSHA is stepping up its efforts to ensure mine operators pay the safety and health fines for which they are responsible and comply with safety standards. If operators fail to show good faith and arrange to pay their penalties, MSHA will pursue them with every means under the law. Just as drivers who don't pay their speeding tickets may see their driving privileges suspended, mine operators that do not pay their safety and health fines can be forced to cease production until fines are resolved. At all times, miners will be paid."

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