Monday, November 17, 2014

Fining mine owners for safety violations has done little to increase workplace safety

Coal mine owners facing thousands of dollars in delinquent fines for safety violations are allowed to keep operating under possibly unsafe conditions, with little to be done about it because of a fear that shutting down unsafe operations will be viewed as a "war on coal," Howard Berkes reports for NPR. He said the federal mine safety agency has no authority to shut down a mine for failing to pay fees.

NPR ran a weeklong investigative series last week that "found that during the time period when mining companies were delinquent in their payments, they committed 130,000 additional violations," Berkes reports. He writes that 2,700 mine owners who own $70 million in fines have gotten away with failing to pay fines for years with no consequences.

"According to NPR's analysis of federal mine delinquency records and Labor Department data on mine violations and injuries, delinquent fines have injury rates that are 50 percent higher," Berkes reports. "And they reported nearly 4,000 injuries while they were delinquent." He said "the government collected just 13 percent of the fines covered by federal court orders and settlement agreements."

"They can only shut down mines temporarily," Berkes reports. "Once violations are fixed, mines reopen. Some may shut down for good eventually, but they can do a lot of damage in the meantime. In 2006, Roy Middleton and four others died in a coal mine disaster in Kentucky. The mine owners haven't paid a half million dollars in penalties according to federal delinquency records. In this case, one of the delinquent mine owners controlled eight other mines. Federal records show those mines had 1,300 more violations, 20 more injuries and $2.4 million in additional delinquent penalties before those mines were closed or sold." (Read more)

No comments: