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The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (Mine Act) covers all mine operators and miners throughout the U.S., including the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Under the Mine Act, a mine "operator" is defined as: "any owner, lessee, or other person who operates, controls, or supervises a coal or other mine or any independent contractor performing service or construction at such mine." A "miner" is any individual working in a coal or other mine. At this time, the Mine Act covers approximately 300,000 miners and almost 14,000 mines.
The Mine Act requires that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspect all mines each year. All underground mines are to receive at least four inspections annually; all surface operations are to be inspected at least twice annually. MSHA is specifically prohibited from giving advance notice of an inspection, and it is specifically authorized to enter mine property without a warrant.
The Mine Act requires or authorizes additional inspections and investigations to ensure safe and healthy work environments for miners. For example, mines that release large amounts of methane gas are to receive more frequent inspections; mines determined to be exceptionally hazardous may receive more frequent inspections. Additionally, MSHA must investigate all fatal accidents and miners' complaints of discrimination based upon the exercise of their rights under the Mine Act.
To promote compliance with the provisions of the Act and its safety and health standards, all violations found during inspections and investigations must be cited. All violations are subject to civil penalties, and all violations must be corrected within the time frames established by MSHA.
The Mine Act permits representatives of the operator and the miners to accompany MSHA during inspections and participate in pre- and post-inspection conferences. If violations are cited, the circumstances surrounding the violations are discussed during post-inspection conferences.
If these discussions do not result in resolution, the mine operator may appeal the citation and the penalty to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent body, with further appeal to the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
In addition to setting safety and health standards for preventing hazardous and unhealthy conditions, MSHA's regulations establish requirements for immediate notification of accidents, injuries, and illnesses; for training programs that meet the statutory requirements of the Mine Act; and for obtaining approval for certain equipment used in gassy underground mines.
Mine operators must notify MSHA when they open or close a mine, and they may request the modification of an existing safety standard on a site-by-site basis. Under the Mine Act, MSHA may approve modifications only if it determines that the alternate method proposed will guarantee no less than the same measure of protection afforded by the existing standards, or that the application of MSHA's standard at the mine will result in a diminution of safety for miners.
A good safety and health program depends on the active participation and interest of everyone at a worksite. Because Congress wants to encourage an active, responsible role for all parties in matters of mine safety and health, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 gives individual miners, their representatives, and job applicants many rights. Deaths, injuries, and illnesses in the workplace can be decreased if all parties take advantage of these rights.
The Act gives miners the rights to:
Miners' representatives also have specific rights under the Act in addition to those rights given to individual miners. Moreover, applicants for mine work have the right not to be discriminated against in hiring because they have previously exercised rights provided under the Act.
If a miner, representative of miners, or job applicant, has general or specific questions about rights under the Act, he or she should contact the nearest MSHA office.
The Mine Act established a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation against mine operators for violations found and cited. As a result of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, the maximum was increased to $55,000.
Non-serious violations (violations that are not designated "significant and substantial") that are promptly corrected normally receive a "single penalty" assessment of $55. More serious violations and non-serious violations that are not promptly corrected are usually assessed using a formula that incorporates six criteria specified for determining penalty amounts by the Mine Act.
Some violations are of such a nature or seriousness that use of the formula would not result in an appropriate penalty. In these cases — most often involving fatalities, serious injuries, and unwarranted failure to comply with standards — MSHA may waive the formula and propose a "special assessment." In developing such an amount, the facts are independently reviewed to determine a penalty amount that will have the deterrent effect contemplated by the Statute. Title 30, Part 100 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains the regulations governing the civil penalty process.
The Mine Act also provides for either civil penalties against individuals for "knowing" violations, or criminal sanctions against mine operators who "willfully" violate safety and health standards. MSHA reviews particular citations and orders for possible knowing or willful violations. In general, the violations reviewed include those involving imminently dangerous situations and a high degree of negligence or reckless disregard. MSHA initiates and conducts investigations of possible knowing or willful violations. If evidence of willful violations is found, the case is referred to the Department of Justice.
Relation to State, Local, and Other Federal Laws
The Mine Act does not give MSHA the authority to cede its responsibilities to states or any other political subdivisions. The Mine Act does not preempt state mine safety and health laws, except insofar as they may conflict with the Mine Act or MSHA's regulations. States may have more stringent health and safety standards.
Click here to download full text of the regulations.
Source: US Department of Labor
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