Front Porch Blog

Secretary Solis: “No free passes, no do over’s when it comes to mine safety”

Labor Secretary Hilda SolisThe way I see it, if you drive drunk and the cops are not around, you are still breaking the law–and your violation could cause others to lose their lives.

And according to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, mining operators are the ones ultimately and solely responsible for the safety of the miners they employ. End of story.

In a speech at the National Mining Association Executive Board meeting today, Solis bluntly stated that even if the Mining, Health and Safety Administration does not catch you violating safety protocols, it is still your fault if lives are lost.

In other words, just because the cops don’t catch you, doesn’t mean you aren’t breaking the law. Or that you aren’t responsible.

Secretary Solis said:

“First, and foremost, the law is clear – mine operators are ultimately responsible for the safety and health of everyone working in a mine. Period.

I know that most of you make safety a priority, and we will work with any mine that wants our help.

But let me be clear, and candid – we will not tolerate mines that cut corners on safety, put miners at risk, pay their fines, and view it as a cost of doing business.”

The Labor Secretary’s remarks followed immediately on the heels of Massey Energy’s lawsuit against the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training subpoenas which would require Massey managers to appear and testify to MSHA in regards to the Upper Big Branch mining disaster which took the lives of 29 miners.

Solis goes on to say:

As an example, it should come as no surprise to anyone that in the wake of the Upper Big Branch disaster, we’re taking a hard look at the Pattern of Violations system.

We’re in the middle of a congressionally mandated review by our Inspector General, and there is work in the Congress to rewrite the POV statute.

But let me be clear, even if Congress doesn’t act, there will be new pattern of violation regulations soon, and they will be true to the Congressional intent to have POV be a powerful tool to change the behavior of operators who persistently put miners at risk.

and makes it very clear that the Department of Labor will start to crack down on repeat offenders:

Now the truth is, those of you running mines with good safety records have nothing to be afraid of when it comes to POV.

Those of you that examine, identify and fix your own problems will see very little difference in how you interact with MSHA.

I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about those who think it’s MSHA’s job to find their problems for them.

I’m worried about the minority of mine operators who cut corners.

And I want those mines to be very afraid of getting on pattern of violation status – because I want those mines to change their ways, and to do so quickly.

Looks like Massey’s run of repeated violations and blame-shuffling has caught the attention of the local sheriff. And she seems pretty pissed.

Maybe that old saying is true after all—you can’t outrun the law forever.

Read Solis’ full statement at Coal Tattoo

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