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MSHA decision on conference appeals will speed up mine safety process

February 8, 2008

The decision by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to routinely stop hearing appeals of smaller violations of mine safety law through the conference process is a “good decision that will break the logjam that is being created by  mine operators appealing every citation, no matter what it is,” United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today.

    “In reaction to stepped up scrutiny of mine safety laws and regulations in Congress–and even  by MSHA itself–the operators’ response has not been to take the steps needed to improve overall safety in their mines, but instead to appeal every citation they get, even the smaller ones,” Roberts said. “This has caused the system to break down, meaning even the most serious violations are not being assessed appropriate penalties quickly enough that would result in greater incentives for operators to follow the law.”

    “It’s a little like getting a ticket for running a stop sign,” Roberts said. “You know you did it. The police officer saw you do it. But instead of just paying the fine and learning to drive better, you take it to court.

    “If everyone did that, it would jam up the court system and little would get done, including any judgments from the court about much more serious violations,” Roberts said. “That’s what the operators are doing at MSHA, and the agency’s response is the right one.”

    Roberts noted the recent revelations that MSHA had not assessed penalties for over 4,000 violations of the law over the past decade, and that this trend has appeared to increase in the last few years. “The actions by the operators to appeal every citation is actually making this problem worse,” Roberts said. “When a citation is appealed, there is no final dollar amount for a fine assessed until that appeal works its way through the process. These cases can sometimes stay open for years and some never get resolved.

    “For years, MSHA adopted a ‘cooperative’ approach with the operators when it came to appealing violations through the conference process,” Roberts said. “But the operators are now trying to take extreme advantage of the agency, and it’s a step in the right direction for MSHA to tackle this problem head on.

    “Make no mistake, we strongly believe that all violations need to be addressed,” Roberts said. “But when it comes to these kind of violations that do not create an immediate danger to the health and safety of miners, the operators need to fess up, pay the fines and move on so we can all concentrate on creating mine environments that are as safe and healthy as possible,” Roberts said.

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