One day after the two-year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released changes to its regulations pertaining to examinations of coal mines.  Under the new regulations, operators must record the actions taken to correct certain violations that mine examiners discover during preshift, supplemental, on-shift, and weekly examinations.  Previously, mine operators had to look for the violations during their examinations but did not necessarily have to correct them at that time.

The new regulations require the operator to record the corrective action taken when violations are found in the nine areas MSHA has identified as presenting the greatest unsafe conditions and the most serious risks to coal miners.  These areas include roof control, ventilation, methane, combustible materials, application of rock dust, guarding moving machine parts, maintenance of conveyor belt components, and other safeguards.

After reviewing accident reports and enforcement data for a 5-year period, MSHA determined that the same types of violations are repeatedly found by its inspectors and that these violations present some of the most unsafe conditions.  Because violations in these areas present the most serious risks to coal miners, MSHA estimates that the new rule will prevent an average of approximately 2.4 fatalities and 6.4 lost-time injuries per year.

In addition to the new inspection requirements, the new rules also require mine operators to review with mine examiners all citations and orders issued in areas where preshift, supplemental, on-shift, and weekly examinations are required.  It is hoped that these quarterly reviews will educate and enhance the skills and knowledge of the operators and examiners, resulting in continual improvements in the safety and health conditions of the mines.

Employers in the mining industry should familiarize themselves with the new rules and ensure that they are in compliance.  You can review a copy of the new rules here. If you have any questions about the new rules, it’s a good idea to consult your legal counsel.

Mark Jeffries focuses his practice in the area of labor and employment law. He has represented employers in wrongful discharge and discrimination cases in state and federal court, as well as before the West Virginia Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.
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