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US Labor Department’s MSHA issues notices of potential pattern of violations to mines in Tennessee and West Virginia

Second notices issued after backsliding on compliance

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration  has issued notices of a potential pattern of violations to two mines that  received similar notices last November.    Solid Fuel Inc.’s No. 1 Mine in Claiborne  County, Tenn., formerly known as Wilcoal’s Tri-State Mining, and Rhino  Eastern LLC’s Eagle 1 Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., both implemented  corrective action programs and successfully achieved their target improvements  during the last PPOV evaluation.    However, they have failed to maintain those health and safety  improvements and again have met the PPOV criteria, a first in the history of  the enforcement of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

In accordance with MSHA’s POV procedures summary, the agency  has continued to monitor the mines for long-term compliance. Based on the most  recent enforcement data, MSHA determined that these mines are no longer making a  good faith effort to eliminate violations.

In the five months following the evaluation period, both  operations’ significant and substantial violation rates increased considerably.   The rate of Solid Fuel Inc.’s No. 1 Mine  increased from 4.84 to 21.94 S&S citations and orders per 100 inspection  hours.   The rate of Rhino Eastern LLC’s  Eagle 1 Mine increased from 4.18 to 24.77 S&S citations and orders per 100  inspection hours.   A rib fall fatality  occurred at the latter mine in June, even though rib falls were specifically  addressed in Rhino Eastern’s corrective action program.

MSHA regulations authorize the agency to consider mines for  a PPOV at least once a year.   Mines that  receive PPOV notices have the opportunity to implement corrective action  programs, and they must reduce their S&S rates to targets set by agency POV  procedures.   MSHA encourages mine  operators to implement corrective action programs with long-term goals for reducing  violations beyond the goals established by MSHA under the POV procedures.   However, when mine operators do not sustain  these goals, MSHA determines whether they are making a good faith effort to  eliminate violations.

“The need to monitor long-term compliance of potential POV  mines was an issue raised by the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector  General, and one with which we fully agree,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant  secretary of labor for mine safety and health.    “MSHA will not allow mines to abandon corrective action programs after  meeting short-term PPOV goals.   We will  insist these mines continue to provide miners the protections they deserve, and  we will use all of the tools available to us under the Mine Act to ensure that  they do.”

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