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A big day for mine safety

Today is shaping up to be a big day in terms of mine safety.

First, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today issued a final rule that targets mining companies that chronically violate safety and health regulations.

Dr. Celeste Monforton of The Pump Handle reports, “The rule will implement a never-used provision of the 1977 Mine Act that allows MSHA to essentially stop production at a mine with a ‘pattern of violations.’ (Following the April 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 men, the Labor Department was criticized for not using this authority against Massey Energy.) The rule will apply to all mines under MSHA's jurisdiction---both underground and surface mining operations, from coal and gold mines, to dredging sites and quarries. MSHA's final rule was ‘under review’ at OMB for 8 months and finally released for publication.”

And speaking of Massey Energy:

Former Massey manager Gary May was sentenced this morning by a Federal District Court judge to the maximum "guidelines" sentence of 21 months in prison for his confessed role in the coverup conspiracy at the Upper Big Branch mine, reports Ken Ward Jr. of the WV Gazette.

“U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced Gary May for one felony count of conspiracy, which carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison,” Ward writes.

“May pleaded guilty to plotting ‘with others known and unknown’ to put coal production ahead of worker safety and to conceal the resulting hazards on numerous occasions at Upper Big Branch. May admitted that he took part in a scheme to provide warning of government inspections and then hide or correct violations before federal agents could make it into working sections of the mine.

Among other violations, May admitted that he ‘caused and ordered’ the disabling of a methane monitor on a continuous mining machine at Upper Big Branch less than two months before the deadly blast. Also, May admitted he ordered an unidentified person to falsify mine examination records by omitting a hazardous condition -- high water that could endanger workers and interfere with the flow of fresh air through underground tunnels -- required to be reported and then repaired.”

National COSH commends MSHA for enacting this much-needed rule. The agency gets particular credit for passing one of the only significant regulations to protect workers’ safety and health in recent years.