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“West Virginia Senate Bill Eliminates Mine Safety Enforcement”

By Ken Ward Jr. , Staff Writer, Charleston Gazette-Mail

State safety inspectors wouldn’t inspect West Virginia’s coal mines anymore. They would conduct “compliance visits and education.”

Violations of health and safety standards wouldn’t produce state citations and fines, either. Mine operators would receive “compliance assistance visit notices.”

And West Virginia regulators wouldn’t have authority to write safety and health regulations. Instead, they could only “adopt policies … [for] improving compliance assistance” in the state’s mines.

Those and other significant changes in a new industry- backed bill would produce a wholesale elimination of most enforcement of longstanding laws and rules put in place over many years — as a result of hundreds of deaths — to protect the health and safety of West Virginia’s coal miners.

Opponents are furious about the proposed changes but also fearful that backers of the bill could easily have the votes to push through any language they want. Longtime mine safety experts and advocates are shocked at the breadth of the attack on current authorities of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” said mine safety expert Davitt McAteer, who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration and led a team that called for strengthening — not weakening — the state’s mine safety efforts after the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine just seven years ago next month.

Senate Bill 582 is billed as legislation “relating generally to coal mining, coal mining safety and environmental protection.”

Various lobbyists and advocates, even many lawmakers, are still trying to sort out and understand its many provisions, which range from language rewriting the state’s program for holding mine operators responsible for cleaning up abandoned strip mines and properly classifying streams that are trout waters to consolidating existing state mine safety boards into one panel and creating a new mandate for state-funded mine rescue teams.

A legislative committee lawyer indicated that some provisions intended for the bill didn’t make it into the initial text, including a rewrite of language in water quality standards that has been the subject of much litigation aimed at reducing water pollution from large-scale surface mines. Those provisions would have to be amended into the bill or added through a committee substitute, the lawyer said.

The heart of the legislation is a section that simply eliminates the ability of state mine safety office inspectors to issue notices of violation or levy fines for mine operators or coal companies for any safety hazards unless they can prove there is an “imminent danger” of death or serious physical harm.

Language in the bill offers somewhat confusing answers about what inspectors would do if they found imminent danger. One part of the bill maintains the current law, which says that inspectors must issue an order to pull all miners out of the affected part of the mine until the hazard is corrected. Another section, though, refers to a new type of process involving a “notice of correction,” that appears to carry no monetary penalty.

One thing that is clear is that the bill would maintain and encourage the use of “individual personal assessments,” which target specific mine employees — rather than mine operators or coal companies — for violations, fines and, possibly, revocation of certifications or licenses needed to work in the industry. In addition, the requirement for four inspections every year for each underground coal mine would be reduced to one compliance assistance visit for each of those mines.

And, the bill would require that, by Aug. 31, the state rewrite all of its coal mine safety standards so that, instead of longstanding and separate state rules, mine operators would be responsible for following only U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations. The list of areas covered by this provision includes electrical standards, mine ventilation, roof control, safety examinations, dust control and explosives.

“It completely guts the state law,” said Josh Roberts, international health and safety director for the United Mine Workers union. “You’re taking back decades of laws.”

Roberts and McAteer agreed that the notion of deferring almost all state mine safety standards to the federal government is especially concerning, given the promises made by President Donald Trump to remove regulations the coal industry says have been hampering production and employment. McAteer noted that West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths last year and has had two deaths already in 2017.

“It is shocking that, after all these years and the numbers of West Virginians who have died in the mines, for the state to even consider this,” McAteer said Monday, after reviewing the legislation. “The state needs to be involved in making sure we are protecting our citizens. This should be one of the primary goals of the state government.”

Word that the coal industry was planning to have one of its supporters in the Legislature drop such a bill has been circulating since the start of the session in early February.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said Tuesday that he isn’t sure that his organization fully supports the reduced enforcement authority spelled out in the legislation.

Asked if that meant the industry feels the bill goes too far, Hamilton said, “We’re okay with it the way the bill is, but we just think it can be tweaked and maybe improved on.”

Hamilton said federal inspectors spend plenty of time at West Virginia’s coal mines and that having state inspectors doing the same thing is duplicative.

The current version of the bill was introduced during a Senate session on Saturday. The lead sponsor is Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker. Smith chairs the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee and is employed as a safety manager for Mettiki Coal. Officials from Mettiki’s parent corporation, Alliance Resource Partners, were major contributors to Smith’s campaign. Alliance bills itself as the second-largest Eastern U.S. coal producer. Its Mettiki arm operates a large underground mine in Tucker County.

On Tuesday, with a near-packed committee room full of industry officials and some rank-and-file coal miners, and with the legislation on the agenda, Smith announced that he was sending the bill to a three-person subcommittee that would be chaired by EIM Committee Vice Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston. Other subcommittee members will be Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, and Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, Smith said.

In an interview, Smith said he doesn’t necessarily support all provisions of the bill he introduced. For example, he said he doesn’t really support taking away so much of the state mine safety office’s enforcement power.

See the rest of the story: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-politics/20170314/wv-senate-bill-eliminates-mine-safety-enforcement#sthash.A8oevOgJ.dpuf

Source: Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

More Information:

Map: West Virginia Leads Nation in Coal Mining Deaths Since 2004

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“MSHA Awards $1 Million Dollars In 2016 Brookwood-Sago Training Grants”

Funding will foster mine rescue training, mine emergency preparedness

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration announced today it has awarded $1 million to six organizations to develop training programs and materials that support mine rescue and mine emergency preparedness for underground mines.

A provision in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 established the Brookwood-Sago grant program to promote mine safety while honoring the 25 men who died in Brookwood, Alabama, in 2001 at the Jim Walter Resources #5 mine, and in Buchannon, West Virginia, in 2006 at the Sago Mine.

The recipients of the 2016 grants are as follows:

–The Colorado School of Mines in Golden is receiving $240,024 in funding to provide quality training to mine rescue teams. The training will focus on enhancing the knowledge and skills for mine rescue teams and incident command staff in the areas of technical rescue, communications and decision making during mine emergencies.

Rend Lake College in Ina, Illinois, is receiving $133,240 in funding to provide training to mine rescue officials and mine rescue teams, with a focus on mine fire brigade training and increased preparedness for those participating for mine emergencies.

–The Colorado Department of Natural Resources in Denver is receiving $217,877 in funding to provide advanced mine rescue skills training for all underground mines and mine emergency prevention in Colorado.

–The University of Arizona in Tucson is receiving $187,054 in funding to improve self-escape skills in response to underground mine emergency events by use of virtual reality gaming.

–The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy in Big Stone Gap is receiving $50,000 in funding to develop training materials and provide training on mine emergency preparedness and mine emergency prevention.

West Virginia University in Morgantown is receiving $171,805 in funding to foster the development and implementation of enhanced and realistic mine rescue training exercises that combine the efforts and abilities of a mine rescue team and fire brigade responding to a simulated coal mine fire emergency and locating missing personnel.

# # #

Media Contact:

Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423, louviere.amy@dol.gov

Release Number: 16-1974-NAT

“MSHA Launches Enhanced Safety Standards Enforcement To Encourage Better Examinations By Industry’s Operators”

MSHAlogo_0

Heightened focus starts July 1 in effort to protect miners, prevent fatalities  

ARLINGTON, Va. – On July 1, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration will begin enhanced enforcement of “Rules to Live By,” its initiative of standards commonly cited following mine deaths, and nine underground coal mine exam rule standards focused on the greatest risks to miners in underground coal mines. The agency announced these measures on May 12, 2016, at a mining industry stakeholder meeting in Arlington.

“While we’ve seen progress in reducing mining deaths associated with both Rules to Live By and the exam rule, mine operators need to conduct better site inspections and take appropriate action to improve compliance with these standards,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “That is why we are increasing attention on these critical standards. We urge the mining industry to do the same.”

An agency analysis of hundreds of U.S. mining fatalities in a 10-year period shows that fatalities associated with Rules to Live By standards have decreased an average of 23 percent, and significant and substantial citations and orders issued for violations of these standards have declined an average of 37 percent.

Fatalities associated with the exam rule have decreased an average of 22 percent, and S&S citations and orders issued for violations of this standard have declined an average of 45 percent.

Beginning July 1, MSHA will employ its web-based Rules to Live By and exam rule calculators more extensively to determine the number of citations and orders issued during the most recent completed inspection periods for which data are available. Inspectors will provide mine operators with a copy of the results, encouraging them to use the tools to monitor their own compliance and take action to eliminate violations. The results will be added to criteria for consideration of impact inspections, particularly targeting mines with elevated noncompliance of these standards.

MSHA launched its Rules to Live By outreach and enforcement initiative in 2010. The agency published its exam rule in 2012.

# # #

Media Contact:

Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423, louviere.amy@dol.gov

Release Number: 16-1295-NAT

90 Minutes About OSHA Most People Have Never Seen

We’ve always known OSHA as the official authority of safety and health in the U.S. But very few are aware of the fact that it produced and distributed three films in 1980. While these films are nothing like the Hollywood blockbusters you queue for in movie houses, they were real pro productions. In fact, two of them had Studs Terkel, the well-known radio broadcaster and historian, as narrator.

So why were the films banned and who initiated the move? More importantly, what do the films contain? Most safety and health professionals, even those belonging to the OSHA staff, didn’t know that OSHA produced and distributed the three films during the Carter Administration. It was actually during the last days of Dr. Eula Bingham as head of OSHA.

The series of 30-minute films are mostly about the safety of workers. Their titles are “Worker to Worker,” “Can’t Take No More,” and “The Story of OSHA”.

Then the year 1981 came, along with the great ban. The order came from no other than Reagan-appointed OSHA head, Thorne Auchter. It was said that Auchter thought the films were too biased towards workers.

“Worker To Worker”

So it happened that the films were recalled and later destroyed. They became unavailable to the public and even to OSHA staff themselves. Not a single government library had records of these OSHA-produced films.


“Cant Take No More”

Fortunately for history buffs and safety and health professionals, some union officials kept copies of the films. This was remarkable considering that Auchter threatened to cut OSHA funding for their safety and health programs.


“The Story of OSHA”

Now after almost 30 years, we can finally watch these three films. This is of course through the efforts of nonprofit corporation PublicResource.Org and safety and health expert Mark Catlin.

 

 

MSHA Announces Results of July Impact Inspections

MSHA News Release: [08/29/2012]
Contact Name: Amy Louviere
Phone Number: (202) 693-9423
Release Number: 12-1757-NAT

MSHA announces results of July impact inspections

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Department of Labor‘s Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that federal inspectors issued 262 citations, 19 orders and three safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and five metal/nonmetal mines last month.

The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, including high numbers of violations or closure orders; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

As an example from last month, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 17 at Rebco Coal Inc.’s Valley Mine No. 1 during the day shift. MSHA personnel captured and monitored the communication systems to prevent advance notification of the inspection. MSHA issued 54 citations and nine orders on the day of the inspection, followed by five more 104(b) withdrawal orders for the operator’s failure to abate the outstanding violations.

Inspectors found violations related to inadequate examinations, the mine’s ventilation plan and the maintenance of electric equipment. The operator failed to conduct pre-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entry prior to miners working and traveling in the area, as well as adequate on-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entries. Inspectors also found that the operator did not properly maintain electric face equipment and failed to conduct adequate electrical examinations. These cited conditions were extensive, having existed over several weekly electrical examinations, and posed serious dangers to miners.

The continuous mining machine was found cutting coal on the wrong side in conflict with the approved ventilation plan, and the area had only a third of the required amount of ventilation. Several water sprays on the machine were functioning with only half of the required water pressure, and the ventilation curtain used was not properly placed. Proper ventilation and controls for methane and respirable coal mine dust must be in place to prevent mine explosions and black lung disease.

Inspectors issued a failure-to-abate order during the impact inspection because the operator had not removed accumulations of combustible materials such as empty rock dust bags, empty wooden pallets, garbage in three crosscuts along the intake roadway and small trash piles at various crosscuts along the intake. The accumulation of the combustible materials standard has been cited 24 times in a two-year period at this mine. Five other failure-to-abate orders were issued because the operator had not corrected violations on the roof bolting machine’s automated temporary roof support systems, section power center, roof bolter and fire suppression systems. Inspectors also observed two faulty circuit breakers and a broken receptacle latch on the power center, and six defects on the roof bolter. This impact inspection was the second conducted by MSHA at this mine which, effective Aug. 10, entered into nonproducing status.

“Mine operators have an obligation under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act to conduct thorough examinations of workplaces and equipment to find and fix hazards to protect miners,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “A failure to do so can expose miners to injury, illness and death. MSHA takes these failures to comply seriously and, on Aug. 6, issued new rules requiring more thorough operator examinations.”

As a second example from last month, MSHA conducted another impact inspection on July 17 at Cobalt Coal Corp. Mining Inc.’s Westchester Mine in McDowell County, W.Va. The inspection party captured the phones to prevent advance notice of the inspection. Inspectors issued 47 enforcement actions, including one imminent danger order, 39 citations, six unwarrantable failure orders and one safeguard. This impact inspection was the mine’s first.

An imminent danger order was issued when stray electrical current was detected on the frame of the section power center and the no. 2 shuttle car. The operator was cited for failing to maintain the underground electrical system in a safe operating condition. In total, 15 citations and orders were issued for not maintaining face equipment in permissible condition, as well as violations relating to electric equipment, trailing cables, grounding and underground high voltage distribution. The stray electrical current and other cited hazards could have electrocuted or seriously injured miners.

Westchester Mine also failed to conduct weekly examinations on the roof bolter, complete the examination of the conveyor belt in its entirety, and perform adequate examinations of the alternate escapeway between the belt drive and the working section. The inspectors observed hazardous conditions on the directional lifeline and tripping/stumbling hazards in the walkway directly under the lifeline. These conditions should have been discovered during examinations and then corrected to provide miners with safe passage in the alternate escapeway during a mine emergency and while working underground.

The operator also was cited for violations of standards covering roof and rib control, fire suppression and ventilation. Of 17 ventilation violations, one was not following the approved ventilation/methane dust control plan where the air quantity in the last open crosscut was approximately one-fourth of what is required. Inspectors found water accumulation up to 11 inches deep in the primary intake escapeway for a distance of 40 feet in an area with a mining height of 58 inches. These conditions, if left uncorrected, affect the effectiveness of the mine’s ventilation system to control and remove methane, respirable dust and other contaminants from the miners’ working environment.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 477 impact inspections, which have resulted in a total of 8,545 citations, 852 orders and 36 safeguards.

Editor’s note: A spreadsheet containing the results of impact inspections in July 2012 accompanies this news release.

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