miningThe 21 citations received by North American Salt’s Cote Blanche mine in Louisiana in recent weeks are only a fraction of the long string of safety violations issued against it by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

From January 2009 through Aug. 8, 2012, the MSHA cited North American Salt with more than 400 health and safety violations at the Cote Blanche mine, with 126 of these violations determined to be “significant and substantial.” The company currently is contesting 38 of these violations, 31 of which MSHA has deemed to be “significant and substantial.”

Putting workers in harm's way

The United Steel Workers (USW), which represents approximately 100 workers at the Cote Blanche mine, accuses North American Salt and its parent company, Compass Minerals of “willingly putting their workers in harm’s way.”

Said USW District 13 Director Mickey Breaux: “They haven’t ensured the safety of their Cote Blanche mine by removing loose salt rock. It doesn’t take much to injure or kill a worker when you have loose debris."

Contentious negotiations

The USW and Local 14425 are engaged in contentious negotiations with North American Salt at the mine, resulting in findings by two administrative law judges from the National Labor Relations Board of violations of federal labor law by North American Salt.

The recent safety and health violations stem from MSHA’s quarterly inspection of the Cote Blanche mine. On July 31, MSHA inspectors gave the company citations for excessive scales they found in the 14- and 16-foot mine shafts and they shut both shafts down so they could be scaled. Scales are excess debris and when miners scale a mine, they remove the loose salt rocks so they do not fall down on top of miners to injure or kill them.

An inspection of the 8-foot mine shaft on Aug. 1 revealed excessive scales, leading MSHA inspectors to shut down that shaft. On Aug. 2, MSHA inspectors ordered the company to have the 14-foot mine shaft scaled by Aug. 5. MSHA inspectors approved the company’s use of the 8- and 14-foot shafts on Aug. 5. As of now, the 16-foot shaft remains closed.

From March 9, 2009 through June 27, 2012 there were 54 accidents reported at the mine, some of which involved worker injuries.

Compass Minerals is headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., with operations in the U.S., Canada and the UK. The company had sales of $1.1 billion in 2011.