Important Steps toward Improving Protections for Miners

Filed in Safety by on January 31, 2011 1 Comment

I applaud the proposal released by the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)  to improve the mining pattern of violations (POV) process.

This proposal is a real step in the right direction for the safety of our coal miners and I am encouraged to see that Secretary Solis and Assistant Secretary Joe Main continue to focus on actions we can take right away to make our mines safer and hold those operators who violate the law accountable. The proposal incorporates many of the concepts in my mine safety bill – rehabilitating troubled mines, eliminating the “potential POV” process so that mines can actually be placed onto pattern status, and eliminating outdated regulations that have allowed certain operators to delay accountability with excessive lawsuits.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act (S. 153) that I recently introduced reforms MSHA’s “pattern of violations” process from a primarily punitive measure to one that rehabilitates unsafe mines.  Under the bill, mines with significantly degraded safety records are required to implement remedial safety plans and meet benchmarks demonstrating that they are making progress on safety. 

The “pattern of violations” system was intended to be an important tool to address mines with recurring safety problems.  Unfortunately, this tool has not been effectively utilized under current law and regulations.  In addition, the harshly punitive nature of the current system does not serve the goal of helping unsafe mines improve their performance and return to operations safely.

This legislation will place mines with significant safety problems onto “pattern of violations” status if their safety and compliance records fall below thresholds established by MSHA.  These thresholds must be appropriate to the size and type of mine, and both the thresholds and the data that MSHA uses must be made publicly available on MSHA’s website and updated regularly so that mines can track their status and take preventive measures.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will conduct an independent evaluation of MSHA’s new criteria and consult with stakeholders to make sure that the criteria is effective. 

There is still work to be done, and I will continue to press for needed legislative fixes to the POV process.

Senator Jay Rockefeller is a United States Senator for West Virginia

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