Warrensburg, NY, January 24, 2011 --(PR.com
)-- The U.S Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has enacted the second phase in major reforms to its pattern of violations process. Stepped up enforcement and increased enhanced inspections of coal, mineral and aggregate mining operations are a result of this second phase. Since April, when the enhanced inspections began in force following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, citations and penalties have risen steadily with industry experts predicting a continued increase.
“Since the passage of the Mine Act more than 30 years ago, not one mining operation has ever been placed on a pattern of violations,” said Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. “We have known for some time that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed. This new screening process improves upon the old one, which cast too broad a net and did not distinguish mines with the highest levels of elevated enforcement. This new system will let MSHA focus its attention on those mines that are putting miners at greatest risk.”
“MSHA has definitely ramped up the number and variety of citations it’s issuing,” said Mark Savit, partner at Patton Boggs LLP and an expert in mining litigation and health and safety law. “It is clear that MSHA leadership favors more stringent enforcement as the primary way to ensure safety, and they are taking unprecedented action as of late.”
Smaller mine operators are particularly vulnerable to MSHA enforcement actions, as many citations carry penalties that can cripple the operating budget of a small mining company. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Mr. Savit, remarking on a recent case in which a small stone quarry was assessed over $500,000 in MSHA penalties. Savit, who began his career at the U.S. Department of the Interior where he headed MSHA’s special investigation unit, said: “The only way a small mining company can operate in this regulatory climate is to become as familiar as it can be with the MSHA citation process. The risk of being unprepared for a significant MSHA enforcement action can be devastating.”
Scott McKenna, a MSHA-certified instructor and owner of Catamount Consulting LLC, agrees. “Mine operators need to know about and respond to any violations on their sites before MSHA does, and they need to know how to deal with citations,” said McKenna. “Ignorance of rights, responsibilities, the Code of Federal Regulations and the ACRI process is simply reckless.”
ACRI, the Alternative Case Resolution Initiative, is a MSHA program in which ACRI-trained, non-attorney MSHA specialists resolve or adjudicate select enforcement disputes with mine operators arising from citations under the Mine Act. The use of the ACRI process has spread to every type of citation except where serious, disabling or fatal injuries are involved.
Mark Savit and Scott McKenna have collaborated to present at a two-and-a-half day seminar covering the legal and procedural processes involved in field inspections, citations and ACRI resolution. The ACRI workshop provides mine operators and their representatives the skills necessary to participate in the ACRI process without outside legal representation. Attorneys from Patton Boggs LLP, a preeminent Washington D.C.-based firm, provide insight into MSHA laws, research techniques and litigation procedures. Participants learn how to organize and present legal arguments, and receive a manual with form pleadings useful in preparing for settlement conferences and proceedings with Administrative Law Judges.
“We are helping mine operators to level the playing field,” said McKenna. “There is no argument that enforcement isn’t necessary. It’s about the cost of doing business.”
The ACRI Seminar will take place April 4-6, 2011 at Hyatt Place Atlanta Galleria in Smyrna, Georgia. The cost to attend is $625 per person. Additional ACRI Seminars are planned for Denver, Dallas and Hershey over the next year. More information on the seminar can be found at http://www.catamountconsultingllc.com or by calling Catamount Consulting at (518) 623-2352.