February 2, 2024 - The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has released the results of its second 2023 pattern of violations screening to identify chronic violators and mine operators demonstrating a disregard for the health and safety of miners. This was the first time that the agency conducted more than one POV screening in a single calendar year.
The pattern of violations screening process examines all of the nation’s mines and identifies mines with a high number of significant and substantial violations and other safety and health compliance problems. An S&S violation is one that could contribute in a significant and substantial way to the cause and effect of a safety or health hazard. Under the Mine Act, MSHA identifies mines exhibiting a pattern of S&S violations and is authorized to issue a POV notice – one of the agency’s toughest enforcement actions – to mine operators. If a mine receives notice of a POV and subsequently commits additional S&S violations, MSHA is authorized to withdraw miners from the affected area except those necessary to correct the violation.
As a result of the screening, MSHA identified that Mine No. 39 in McDowell County, West Virginia operated by Twin State Mining Inc., met the initial POV criteria for the existence of a pattern of violations under section 104(e) of the Mine Act. During the 12-month review period – from Nov. 1, 2022, through Oct. 31, 2023 – MSHA cited 87 S&S violations at Mine No. 39. The S&S rate per 100 inspection hours was 9.11; the national average rate for underground coal mines was 2.90.
Although the mine met the initial screening criteria, under the POV process, the mine was reviewed for mitigating circumstances, which can result in postponing or not issuing or a POV notice. MSHA determined that postponement was warranted, pending the agency’s continued evaluation of Mine No. 39’s operations and issued a postponement notice to Twin State Mining Inc. MSHA will continue to monitor Mine No. 39 and has the discretion to rescind the postponement and issue a POV notice if it determines such action is needed to protect the safety and health of miners.
“The Biden-Harris administration has demonstrated that it will use its enforcement tools such as its POV authority and impact inspections to focus on chronic violators and protect miners’ safety and health,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “Following a year when the mining industry experienced a troubling increase in fatalities, MSHA continues to use all measures available to prevent fatal and serious accidents and hold low-road operators accountable.”
MSHA’s two most recent POV issuances remain in effect. MSHA issued a POV notice on July 6, 2023 to Atalco Gramercy LLC, the operator of Gramercy Operation in Gramercy, Louisiana, after identifying a pattern of S&S violations related to caustic spills and leaks. On December 1, 2022, MSHA issued a POV notice to Morton Salt Inc., operator of the Weeks Island Mine and Mill in New Iberia, Louisiana, after identifying a pattern of S&S violations related to roof and rib hazards.
Operators placed on a POV who commit S&S violations are required to withdraw miners from the affected area until MSHA determines that the violation has been abated. The POV notice is terminated if MSHA does not issue a withdrawal order within 90-days after the issuance of the POV notice or if an MSHA inspection of the entire mine finds no S&S violations.
MSHA offers two online calculators to help mine operators monitor compliance: the Pattern of Violations Calculator, which allows mine operators to monitor performance under the POV screening criteria and alerts mine operators that corrective actions are needed, and the Significant and Substantial Calculator, which enables mine operators to monitor their S&S violations. It is the responsibility of mine operators to track their violation and injury histories to determine whether they need to take action to avoid meeting the POV screening criteria.