Safety violators among mine operators

The number of chronic safety violators among mine operators has fallen sharply in recent years, according to government figures being released Thursday.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration says the number has dropped in response to reforms the agency has taken to rein in bad actors. The National Mining Association counters that the industry's own safety program deserves the credit.

The government puts repeat safety offenders on its Pattern of Violations, or POV, list, which is reserved for mines that pose the greatest risk to the safety and health of miners. A POV designation means that that if a federal inspector were to find another significant and substantial violation, an order would be issued to withdraw miners from a specific area, effectively ceasing operations of that area until the problem is corrected there.

Prior to 2010, according to MSHA, no mine had been put on that list. But partly in response to the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29 miners, MHSA toughened its enforcement that year and began citing mines for POV actions. Since then, seven mines have been on the POV list.

In its 2010 screening, 51 chronic violators were identified for further review among mine operators. But for this year's screening, that number had dropped to 12. The biggest reduction came in coal mines, which dropped from 42 in 2010 to six this year.

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