The Pattern of Violation Rule
A mine may be able to persuade MSHA to postpone the issuance of a POV notice by implementation of an MSHA- approved corrective action plan (CAP). Such a plan may be considered a mitigating circumstance by MSHA if it contains “concrete, meaningful measures that can reasonably be expected to reduce the number of S&S violations at the mine; are specifically tailored to the compliance problems at the mine and contain achievable benchmarks and milestones.” However, it is up to the operator to determine when to present such a plan, and it is within the discretion of the agency as to the timing of review and approval.
In short, the new POV rule permits MSHA to issue a POV notice without official warning or pre-notice issuance discussion. It is up to the operator to keep track on MSHA’s online Monthly Monitoring Tool to determine where it stands in the process. The POV Single Source page on MSHA’s website includes the Monthly Monitoring Tool; Pattern of Violations Screening Criteria; and Pattern of Violations Procedures Summary. MSHA believes that having mine operators track their own data to determine pattern order potential incentivizes operators to be more proactive about their safety and health program.
One critical component missing from the rule is that the specific criteria that will be used by MSHA to make POV determinations is not posted on the website. At this time, MSHA has provided no information regarding what the specific criteria will be. Although MSHA pledged to post the specific criteria with numerical data, it did not say when it expects to do so and has effectively avoided notice and comment on that aspect of the new rule, stating that the development of such criteria is a discretionary policy matter and may be subject to ongoing revision.
Operators are justified in their concern about the ability to exercise due process rights to determine the validity of inspectors’ enforcement actions and findings before the economic viability of a mine is jeopardized by the threat of the POV sanction. That includes the ability to effectively challenge enforcement actions in a fair and impartial forum before being categorized as a pattern violator. The informal conference process has not proven to be an effective means to resolve enforcement action disputes expeditiously, nor is there any guarantee of expeditious Commission Review in a system that is already over taxed. In fact, it is this very delay in obtaining final orders from formal contests caused by the overworked adjudication system that MSHA relies on to justify the use of issued as opposed to final enforcement action in the POV notice review process.
While MSHA asserts that the new rule will not result in an excessive number of operators being put on POV status, this remains to be seen. More information regarding the new rule and MSHA’s interpretation of POV may be found at MSHA’s POV web page: http://www.msha.gov/POV/POVsinglesource.asp.
Laura E. Beverage is a member of Jackson Kelly PLLC and manages its Denver office, where she works with the firm’s Occupational Safety and Health Practice Group. She can be reached at 303-390-0004 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Witter is an associate in Jackson Kelly PLLC’s Denver office, where she works with the firm’s Occupational Safety and Health Practice Group. She can be reached at 303-390-0036 or via email at email@example.com.
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