5:30pm

Thu February 23, 2012
Mountain Kentucky

Federal Indictments for Mine Safety Violations Rare

An eastern Kentucky mining company and three of its top officials are facing indictment by a federal grand jury. But even so, federal indictments for mine safety violations are rare. A federal grand jury says Manalapan Mining Company and three of its officials willfully violated federal mine safety rules. The indictment says the mine operations manager, superintendent and foreman “failed to report and record hazardous conditions” at Manalapan’s P-1 Mine in Harlan County. The period they’re targeting culminated in a miner being killed by a roof collapse last summer.

Lexington mine safety attorney Tony Oppegard says the fact that federal indictments of this sort are so rare shows there are problems with the federal Mine Act.

“The Mine Act has a gaping hole in it that needs to be corrected by Congress and that is that every violation that a company creates or maintains that is unsafe conditions, those are all misdemeanors even if there’s criminal conduct,” he said.

And it’s hard to catch operators committing felonies, like failing to report hazards and falsifying records.

“Unless an MSHA inspector is underground and comes across this type of unlawful practice, in most cases the government just isn’t going to know about it,” Oppegard said.

Mine operators are required to conduct examinations for hazardous conditions before and during shifts, and if federal prosecutors can show they faked the records the three officials could face fines and jail time.