By Brent I. ClarkIlana R. Morady, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: President Trump’s selection for Administrator at MSHA has been confirmed this week by the Senate.

In a 52-46 vote, David G. Zatezalo, of West Virginia, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week, on November 15, 2017, to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health (MSHA). The vote was along party lines, with Zatezalo  getting 52 Republican votes.

Zatezalo has deep roots in the mining industry, including a Mining Engineering degree from West Virginia University in 1977, and having become a Professional Engineer and received an award for high grade on the mining exam in 1981.  According to the Whitehouse press release, “Zatezalo began his mining career in 1974 with Consolidation Coal Company as a UMWA Laborer, became a foreman and subsequently General Superintendent for Southern Ohio Coal Company and General Manager of AEP’s Windsor Coal Company. He later rose to be Vice-President of Operations of AEP’s Appalachian Mining Operations.”  He had also served as Chairman, President, CEO, and COO of Rhino Resources GP, LLC, and as President of Hopedale Mining, LLC.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Brent I. Clark and Ilana R. Morady

iStock_000009254156LargeSeyfarth Synopsis: The proposed MSHA rule would require mine operators to examine their mines and to notify miners of dangerous conditions.

MSHA announced today that it has formally submitted a proposed mine examination rule for publication in the June 8, 2016 Federal Register.  81 Fed. Reg. 36818.

The proposed mine examination rule (RIN:1219-AB87) would require metal and nonmetal mine operators to: (1) examine their facilities before a shift begins; (2) explicitly notify miners of any dangerous conditions found; and (3) record their examinations and establish processes to fix hazards.  The current rule allows operators to examine mines during a shift.

MSHA will gather input on this proposed rule in four meetings to be held in Salt Lake City, UT (July 19), Pittsburgh, PA (July 21), Arlington, VA (July 26) and Birmingham, AL (Aug. 4).

Last year, MSHA chief, Joe Main, stated that tightening mine inspection requirements was one of his highest regulatory priorities.

By Benjamin D. Briggs, Ilana R. Morady, and Kerry M. Mohan

To cap off the winter ABA conference, on Friday the conference discussed recent OSHA Review Commission decisions involving deference given to the Secretary’s interpretation, heat illness, and combustible dust.

Chief Judges Rooney (OSHRC) and Lesnick (MSHRC) discussed ethical and professional behavior before the Court, reminding attorneys to act appropriately and honestly in all circumstances. However, the main focus of today’s sessions was on MSHA’s Pattern of Violation program and OSHA’s proposed supplement to the recordkeeping regulations to enhance anti-retaliation protections for employees reporting injuries. Regarding MSHA’s Pattern of Violation program, the panel discussed the very real issue of being placed in the program without any citations being affirmed by the Judge, somewhat similar to OSHA’s severe violator enforcement program. Regarding the proposed supplement to the recordkeeping regulations, there was much discussion as to an employer’s ability to enforce safety rules even if an employee is injured, as well as an employer’s ability, and sometimes legal duty, to drug test employees following a workplace injury.

The day’s sessions, as with the rest of the conference, further demonstrated the sometimes deep divide that exists between employers, on one side, and OSHA and unions, on the other. Whereas OSHA and unions believe that further regulations are necessary to protect workers from potential retaliation, employers argued that the anti-retaliation provisions are sufficient as they currently exist. Nonetheless, employers will continue to face OSHA’s attempt to increase regulatory burdens.

Further, throughout the conference, employers repeatedly stressed the importance of OSHA’s consistence and predictability in issuing guidance and enforcement. OSHA, on the other hand, rejected employers’ request to provide bright line guidance, expressing its need for flexibility to address different factual situations. Consequently, we can expect seemingly inconsistent positions to continue to come from OSHA over the next year.

By Brent I. Clark, Kerry M. Mohan, and Craig B. Simonsen

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently sent three mining operations notices of a pattern of violations (POV) of health or safety standards under section 104(e) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act).  The MSHA POV screening this year was the first one conducted since MSHA’s revised pattern of violations rule (78 Fed. Reg. 5056 (Jan. 23, 2013)) went into effect on March 25, 2013.

Under the Mine Act, MSHA is authorized to issue a POV notice to mine operators that demonstrate a disregard for the health and safety of miners through a “pattern of significant and substantial” (S&S) violations and employee injuries. A POV notice is reserved for the mines “that pose the greatest risk to the safety of miners.” MSHA defines a significant and substantial violation as one that is reasonably likely to result in a reasonably serious injury or illness.

The Mine Act requires mines that receive POV notices to be issued withdrawal orders –effectively ceasing their mining operations – for all S&S violations. After no mine was placed on POV for the first 33 years after the Mine Act went into effect, these POV notices mark MSHA’s significantly enhanced and aggressive enforcement activities.

Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, indicated “MSHA’s new POV rule, which we will vigorously enforce, enhances protections for miners and shifts the responsibility for monitoring compliance and taking action to prevent POV enforcement actions to the operator.” Among other things, the new rule shifted responsibility for monitoring compliance to the mine operator, and mandated that operators submit corrective action programs to proactively address issues that could lead to a POV.

Mine operators under this new age of MSHA enforcement need be ever vigilant in monitoring its compliance status and ensuring employees are properly trained to reduce injury rates.

By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released its preliminary “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.”  The findings show an increase of twenty-three percent in the oil and gas extraction industries, a fourteen percent increase in the mining sector, and a five percent increase in the construction industry.

The BLS Report indicates that 767 workers were killed as a result of violence and other injuries by persons or animals, including 463 homicides and 225 suicides. The total number of fatal work injuries after being struck by objects or equipment increased by seven percent.

As noted above, the number of fatal work injuries in the construction sector increased five percent in 2012. BLS says in its news release that “construction accounted for the highest number of fatal work injuries of any industry sector in 2012.”

Fatal work injuries in the mining sector increased fourteen percent from 2011. The number of fatal work injury cases in oil and gas extraction industries rose in 2012 by twenty-three percent — which represents a series high. This may be attributed to the increasing numbers of employees working in fracking operations. Fatal work injuries in support activities for mining increased nine percent.

In response to the BLS Report, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a press release that “[w]e can and must do better. Job gains in oil and gas and construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable…. Employers must take job hazards seriously and live up to their legal and moral obligation to send their workers home safe every single day. The Labor Department is committed to preventing these needless deaths, and we will continue to engage with employers to make sure that these fatality numbers go down further. “ Emphasis added.

Employers in these industries, oil and gas, construction, and mining, need to be mindful of OSHA’s and MSHA’s enhanced monitoring and inspection activities. Take steps to insure that your safety and health programs, policies, and training are up-to-date and are being rigorously implemented. Be sure to have a plan in-place for when an agency inspector does come calling, so that the company is protected and any citations and liabilities are minimized.

By Brent I. Clark, Meagan Newman, and Craig B. Simonsen

Mine operators and employee interveners lost their joint appeal to U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals — where the Court agreed with the Commission that MSHA acted within its statutory and constitutional authority to issue document demands for employee medical and personnel records. Big Ridge, Inc., et al., v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, et. al., __ F.3d __, Nos.12-2316 & 12-2460 (7th Cir. 2013).

In the underlying case, the Secretary of Labor issued citations alleging violations of 30 C.F.R. § 50.41. Section 50.41 states that:

Upon request by MSHA, an operator shall allow MSHA to inspect and copy information related to an accident, injury or illnesses which MSHA considers relevant and necessary to verify a report of investigation required by §50.11 of this part or relevant and necessary to a determination of compliance with the reporting requirements of this part.

The Administrative Law Judge upheld the MSHA citations and orders upon finding that the operators had violated section 50.41 when they failed to cooperate with a 30 C.F.R. Part 50 audit, by refusing to provide the requested information.  The Commission agreed with the ALJ.

On appeal, the mine operators and miner employees challenged the document demands on several grounds. They contended:

  1. That MSHA did not have the authority to require mine operators to comply with document demands for employee medical and personnel records under the Act or relevant regulations;
  2. That the relevant regulation, 30 C.F.R. § 50.41, is not a reasonable interpretation of the Mine Safety Act which was not properly promulgated;
  3. That the document demands infringed the mine operators’ Fourth Amendment right not to be searched without a warrant;
  4. That the demands violated the miners’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights in their medical records;
  5. That the daily penalties MSHA imposed for failure to comply violated the mine operators’ Fifth Amendment right to due process of law; and
  6. That the demands conflict with a variety of other federal and state laws.

In disposing of all of these contentions, the Court agreed with the Commission that MSHA acted within its statutory and constitutional authority both in demanding information that would permit MSHA to verify the accuracy of mine operators’ injury reports and in issuing citations and monetary penalties when mine operators refused to comply. Specifically, the Court found that “although the Mine Safety Act does not expressly refer to MSHA’s document review power as the power to issue an ‘administrative subpoena,’ the authority the Act confers upon MSHA amounts to an administrative subpoena in substance.”

This case again illustrates the need for employers to carefully interface with MSHA as it interacts with the Company. The need to protect the Company from citations and excessive penalties, and the necessity of protecting the Company’s employees’ privacy, demand cautious, measured responses.

By Brent I. Clark and Meagan Newman

At an ABA conference in California today, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA, Jordan Barab, described some of the consequences of the sequester on OSHA’s enforcement activity.

OSHA Enforcement

While it appears that furloughs will not take place, there will be significant impacts on compliance assistance and inspections. The Deputy Assistant Secretary told the audience of safety and health attorneys representing management, organized labor, and government, that he anticipated roughly 1400 fewer compliance consultations and 1200 fewer inspections.  There are also likely to be similar impacts among the state plan OSHA jurisdictions.

MSHA Case Backlog

At the same conference, the Solicitor of Labor, Hon. M. Patricia Smith, described effects of the sequester on efforts to reduce the large backlog of MSHA cases.  As a result of the sequester, the MSHA backlog offices in Arlington and Atlanta will close, and the Denver office faces significant reductions!

By Brent I. Clark and Ilana R. Morady

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has just announced the revision of its final pattern of violations (POV) rule, which makes it easier for the Agency to shut down mines. 78 Fed. Reg. 5056 (January 23, 2013). “The final rule simplifies the existing POV criteria, improves consistency in applying the POV criteria, and more effectively achieves the Mine Act’s statutory intent.”

The new rule will allow MSHA to issue a POV notice to a mine without first issuing a potential POV notice. The rule also allows MSHA to consider orders and citations that are pending on appeal when it evaluates a mine’s safety record. In addition, the final rule will establishes general criteria and procedures that MSHA will use to identify mines that have a pattern of significant and substantial violations.

The final rule restates the statutory requirement that, for mines in POV status, each significant and substantial violation will result in a withdrawal order until a complete inspection finds no significant and substantial violations. The rule also reinforces mine operators’ responsibility for compliance with MSHA safety and health standards and for monitoring the compliance of their own mines.

With this update to the MSHA rules, mine owners and operators must be vigilant about their safety and health training, policies, and procedures to ensure compliance with the law.

By Meagan Newman

Beginning on January 27, 2012 mining companies will have to disclose a broad range of safety violations and other related issues to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC issued the final rule on December 21, 2011, implementing the Mine Safety section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 1503(a) of the Act requires the filing of Form 8-K to disclose orders and notices received from Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in as few as four business days from receipt of some notices or orders. Although some mine safety disclosures were already required by the Act, the new rule clarifies and expands those mandatory disclosures. The rule also requires that mining companies report the total penalties assessed in the reporting period, even if the company is contesting an assessment.

The rule now specifically requires mine companies to provide mine-by-mine totals for the following:

  • Significant and substantial violations of mandatory health or safety standards under section 104 of the Mine Act for which the operator received a citation from MSHA
  • Orders under section 104(b) of the Mine Act
  • Citations and orders for unwarrantable failure of the mine operator to comply with section 104(d) of the Mine Act
  • Flagrant violations under section 110(b)(2) of the Mine Act
  • Imminent danger orders issued under section 107(a) of the Mine Act
  • The dollar value of proposed assessments from MSHA
  • Notices from MSHA of a pattern of violations or potential to have a pattern of violations under section 104(e) of the Mine Act
  • Pending legal actions before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
  • Mining-related fatalities

All affected employers should review their internal record-keeping and SEC reporting processes to ensure the that the correct types of data are being tracked and that notices are filed in a timely manner. The good news for non-mining employers is that when passing the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress ultimately opted not to include a similar requirement under the Occupational Safety Health Act.