Release of Affinity mine from POV oversight a dangerous step in the wrong direction


OCTOBER 1, 2018

[TRIANGLE, VA.]  United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

“The recent release of the Affinity mine, operated by Pocahontas Coal Company in Raleigh County, W.Va., from the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) Pattern of Violations (POV) status is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for America’s coal miners. And it violates MSHA’s own rules of procedure for releasing mines from POV oversight.

“Affinity had a long history of ignoring safety and health regulations leading up to its placement on POV status in 2013, including two fatal incidents within two weeks in February, 2013. Since it was placed on POV, there continued to be hundreds of Significant and Substantial (S&S) violations at the mine – 261 to be exact.

“In just 2018, Affinity was cited 36 times for S&S violations, including failing to maintain mobile and stationery machinery ‘in safe operating condition’ just six days before the POV was lifted. That is not the hallmark of a mine doing everything it can to keep workers safe.

“Let me be clear: Every rule, every regulation in the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act is written in the blood of a dead or injured miner. If a rule is there, it is because someone was injured or killed on the job before that rule was written. S&S violations are some of the most serious violations of the law that can occur in a mine. Pretending they are otherwise puts miners at severe risk.

“MSHA’s release of the Affinity mine from POV status appears to violate Section 104(e)(3) of the Mine Act, which states that before a POV can be lifted from a mine, that mine must undergo an inspection of the entire mine with no S&S violations. There is no evidence that MSHA conducted such an inspection at the Affinity Mine. We sent the agency a letter more than two weeks ago asking what the legal basis was for this mine being taken off POV but have yet to receive a response.

“This is a dangerous precedent for American coal miners, one that must be reversed immediately. Not only should the Affinity mine be put back on POV status until it can meet the requirements for being relieved of that status, but MSHA and the Department of Labor must never violate their own standards again.

“POV status is there for a reason. It demonstrates that miners at a particular mine are being put at serious risk of severe injury or death, and strong action is needed to protect them. Failure to enforce such basic and critical safety and health regulations sends a message to America’s coal miners that the federal government has forgotten that most precious resource in the mine is the miner, not the coal.”