The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) decision to release a West Virginia mine operator from its Pattern of Violations Notice (POV) is drawing the ire of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

President Cecil E. Roberts said the release of Affinity mine after five years of being under a POV notice is “a dangerous step in the wrong direction for America’s coal miners” and one that violates MSHA’s own rules of procedure for releasing mines from POV oversight.

Pocahontas Coal Company, operator of the mine, reached a settlement with the MSHA in August.

Congress originally included the POV provision in the Mine Act so that mine operators would manage health and safety conditions at mines and find and fix the root causes of S&S violations, thereby protecting the health and safety of miners.

Hundreds of violations after POV status

Roberts said Affinity continued to endanger workers even after being placed in POV status in 2013. “Since it was placed on POV, there continued to be hundreds of Significant and Substantial (S&S) violations at the mine – 261 to be exact,” he said.

“In just 2018, Affinity was cited 36 times for S&S violations, including failing to maintain mobile and stationery machinery ‘in safe operating condition’ just six days before the POV was lifted. That is not the hallmark of a mine doing everything it can to keep workers safe. S&S violations are some of the most serious violations of the law that can occur in a mine. Pretending they are otherwise puts miners at severe risk.”

Roberts said every mining safety regulation exists because a miner was injured or killed on the job before that rule was written.

Required inspection of mine in doubt

Roberts accused the MSHA of violating Section 104(e)(3) of the Mine Act, which states that before a POV can be lifted from a mine, that mine must undergo an inspection of the entire mine with no S&S violations.

“There is no evidence that MSHA conducted such an inspection at the Affinity Mine. We sent the agency a letter more than two weeks ago asking what the legal basis was for this mine being taken off POV but have yet to receive a response.”

Roberts called on the MSHA to reverse its decision to release Affinity from POV status.

“POV status is there for a reason. It demonstrates that miners at a particular mine are being put at serious risk of severe injury or death, and strong action is needed to protect them. Failure to enforce such basic and critical safety and health regulations sends a message to America’s coal miners that the federal government has forgotten that most precious resource in the mine is the miner, not the coal.”