Coal company blames previous owner for safety reputation

Oct 25, 2013

Patriot Coal is responding to recent actions from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Yesterday, Thursday MSHA released a statement stating that the agency had labeled two West Virginia coal mines and one in Kentucky as pattern violators, meaning they've repeatedly broken federal health and safety regulations.

The POV screening is the first one conducted since MSHA’s revised Pattern of Violations rule went into effect on March 25, 2013. These revisions improve MSHA’s ability to act when it finds a pattern of violations.

After no mine was placed on POV for the first 33 years after the Mine Act went into effect, these POV notices mark the third year in a row that MSHA has used this critical tool to protect miners from serious hazards.

One of the mines is the Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County owned by Patriot Coal. MSHA says:

  • "Brody Mining’s Brody Mine No. 1 received 253 S&S violations during the review period. An MSHA audit of Brody Mining’s records found that injuries of miners resulted in 1,757 lost work days at the mine, 367 of which were from eight lost-time injuries that Brody Mining failed to report to MSHA. The company was also audited during the 2012 POV screening process. In that audit, MSHA found 29 injuries Brody Mining failed to report and 724 unreported lost work days."

Credit Patriot Coal

Patriot says the company does not deserve this status because some of the citations were inherited from the previous owner.

Patriot gained control from Brody Mining on December 31, 2012. In a statement, officials at Patriot said several of the violations and the severity measure cited in the POV finding took place under the prior owner.

Patriot says after the purchase, the Company submitted a Compliance Improvement Plan to MSHA and that  the Brody mine compliance performance has improved by 40 percent.

Patriot claims to have replaced all former officers and key mine-level managers at this mine. Patriot says MSHA approved a Corrective Action Plan submitted in September.

Company officials say they intend to vigorously contest the POV finding. 

The other mine placed on POV status is Pocahontas Coal Co.'s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, where two men died within two weeks of each other in February. MSHA says:

  • "Pocahontas Coal Company’s Affinity Mine received 124 S&S violations during the review period, a quarter of which MSHA cited as involving high negligence or reckless disregard for the health and safety of miners. Two miners died in separate accidents during the review period; the fatalities occurred within two weeks of each other and both involved scoops. Affinity Mine received 35 closure orders during the review period, the third highest in the country."

The third is Tram Energy's Mine No. 1 in Floyd County, Ky. MSHA says:

  • "Tram Energy’s Mine No. 1 received 120 S&S violations during the POV review period—more than half of those violations involved elevated levels of operator negligence. MSHA issued 40 closure orders at Tram Energy during the POV review period, the most of any mine in the country. The company has incurred approximately $170,000 in civil penalties since it began operating in 2012. All but $666 is unpaid and delinquent."

In 2010 29 men were killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion. The then Massey owned mine had been cited for 639 violations in the 15 months prior to the explosion, and yet was never put on POV status. Before MSHA was required to issue a 'potential pattern of violations" status.

Under the revised rule MSHA no longer has to wait for contested citations to play out in court.