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MSHA Coming to Collect on Scofflaw Program

03 February, 2023

Mining companies cited years ago have not been paying their fines, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration is clamping down. MSHA officials say they want to increase mine worker safety by sending a message through the strengthening of its Scofflaw Program to rein in some habitual violators.

Scofflaw mining companies, beware. Mine Safety and Health Administration Assistant Secretary David Zatezalo says he aims to collect on unpaid fines and will strengthen MSHA's Scofflaw Program. More than collecting the money that is due, Zatezalo says more importantly the move is about promoting the health and safety of the nation's miners.

In an op-ed piece for The Intelligencer newspaper in Wheeling, West Virginia, Zatezalo stressed the need for MSHA to step up efforts for mine safety and health immediately. Mine operators should "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," he wrote. "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."

According to MSHA statistics for 2017, there were 28 deaths combined in metal and coal mining, with coal mining deaths nearly double from 2016. While technology and industry practices are changing to weed out safety challenges, the data shows that violations are still occurring in areas such as machine guarding, hazard communication, Safety Data Sheet issues, and hazardous waste handling. Traffic incidents were also among the top injury causes for mining workers due to the lack of barriers, signs, and other visual communication.

Earlier this year, three mines in Kentucky were a target for unpaid fine collection, earning a lawsuit of more than $600,000 by officials. The civil penalties were the result from 478 citations issued for violations?some as far back as 2004. "There is no excuse for mine operators to deliberately flout their obligations to pay civil penalties for safety and health violations," said Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. "MSHA and the Department of Labor will not hesitate to hold scofflaw operators accountable."

Since 2007, MSHA has issued at least 16 citations and five mine shutdown orders for failure to pay MSHA violation fines, Zatezalo said. Mine operators can easily coordinate efforts, communicate life-saving information, and adapt to new situations while staying in compliance with MSHA's standards and regulations (30 CFR 75.380). Convey messages in a clear, concise manner by printing signs to warn of nearby hazards, direct workers to safety, provide critical instructions, and highlight dangerous equipment in low-light or dusty environments. 

Be proactive to improve the safety and health of your miner's to maintain efficiency, safety, and avoid hefty MSHA fines.