With fatalities at record lows, how can MSHA take a different approach to safety in 2019? In the recent Rock Products magazine, I considered MSHA’s traditional approach to its role as regulator and offered some thoughts on new directions in the year ahead.

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The Department of Labor’s Inspector General (IG) set out to answer a very specific question: Have MSHA’s civil penalties deterred unsafe mine operations? That seems like a fair question, given that MSHA has assessed more than $1 billion and collected more than $800 million in civil monetary penalties since 2000.


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When medical marijuana first started to become legal, mine operators responded in a similar way. Most mines continue to have a zero tolerance policy for both applicants and current employees for several good reasons. But, as local legalization spreads across the country, state laws and recent court decisions are creating challenges for employers.


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According to MSHA Assistant Secretary David Zatezalo, MSHA is working to “put the ‘H’ back in ‘MSHA.’” He told Congress over the summer that he is “paying close attention to the ‘H’ in MSHA: miners’ health.” He emphasized that MSHA will “aggressively enforce existing standards to ensure that operators protect miners from exposure to respirable dust and quartz.”


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What test should a court apply when reviewing a claim that a mine operator discriminated against or interfered with a miner’s rights under Section 105(c) of the Mine Act? Recent Commission and Supreme Court cases, as well as a fully-staffed Mine Safety and Health Review Commission offer cautious signs of optimism for the industry.

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