WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced that its Mine Safety and Health Administration has notified the operator of the Morton Salt Inc.’s Weeks Island Mine and Mill in New Iberia, Louisiana, of the existence of a pattern of violations of mandatory health or safety standards under section 104(e) of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act. This marks the first time since 2014 that a mine operator has received a POV notice for persistent serious health and safety violations.
The pattern of violations screening process examines all of the nation’s mines and identifies mines with a high number of significant and substantial violations and other safety and health compliance problems. An S&S violation is one that is reasonably likely to result in a serious injury or illness. Under the Mine Act, MSHA identifies mines exhibiting a pattern of S&S violations and is authorized to issue a POV notice – one of the agency’s toughest enforcement actions – to mine operators who are chronic violators and demonstrate a disregard for the health and safety of miners.
During the 12-month review period – from Sept. 1, 2021, through Aug. 31, 2022 – MSHA cited 82 S&S violations at Weeks Island Mine and Mill; of those, 32 were issued for the operator’s high negligence or reckless disregard. The S&S rate per 100 inspection hours was 11.2, while the national average for underground metal/nonmetal mines was 3.2. In its review, MSHA identified the existence of a pattern of S&S violations related to roof and rib hazards at the mine.
If a mine receives notice of a POV and subsequently commits additional S&S violations, federal law allows MSHA to withdraw miners from the affected area except those necessary to correct the violation. An operator can be removed from Section 104(e) sanctions if no S&S violations are found within 90 days of the POV notice’s issuance. Following that, a POV designation can be terminated after an inspection of the entire mine results in no S&S violations.
“Congress put the pattern of violations authority in the Mine Act for a reason. Our action shows that we will use that authority and other tough enforcement measures to protect the safety and health of our nation’s miners,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Christopher J. Williamson. “The Mine Act is also clear that mine operators have the ultimate responsibility to keep miners safe and healthy.”
“Using our online tools, operators can easily monitor their performance under the screening criteria and take proactive measures to improve compliance and protect miners’ safety and health,” Williamson added.
MSHA offers two online calculators to help mine operators monitor compliance, including the Pattern of Violations Calculator, which allows mine operators to monitor performance under the POV screening criteria and alerts mine operators that corrective actions are needed, and the Significant and Substantial Calculator, which enables mine operators to monitor their S&S violations. It is the responsibility of mine operators to track their violation and injury histories to determine whether they need to take action to avoid triggering a POV notice.