Collecting Mine Safety Fines
American drivers understand that if they go over the speed limit and receive a ticket from a police officer, they must pay the fine that has been issued, or their driver’s license will be suspended. The laws for drivers, and the consequences of not paying fines, are clear to all.
America’s mine operators also operate under a set of well-known laws. The federal Mine Act is straightforward on enforcement matters: Inspectors conduct mandated annual inspections and issue citations for safety and health violations, which carry a monetary penalty. The payment of these fines is required by law, and funds go to the U.S. Treasury.
These penalties are an important reminder of the need to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for America’s miners. When penalties are assessed, full and timely payment of fines must be a routine matter for all mine operators — just as it is for drivers who violate the rules of the road.
As the Assistant Secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), it is my job to promote safe and healthy workplaces, and help prevent mining accidents, illnesses, and injury for the more than 300,000 men and women who work in our nation’s mines. Mine operators must pay the safety and health fines they have been issued by MSHA, as required by the law.
The great majority of mine operators are serious in their approach to safety responsibilities. They maintain safe working conditions, correct problems, and pay their penalties on time.
However, some operators do not pay their fines on time and in full. Failure to pay penalties is unfair to miners who deserve safe workplaces, and it is unfair to mine operators who play by the rules. By failing to prevent violations and then failing to pay fines, non-compliant operators gain an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Uncollected fines combined with continued violations show disregard for the law and our nation’s miners. For this reason, I am taking action to strengthen MSHA’s Scofflaw Program, which was created in 2007 to pursue the collection of unpaid fines.
Since its launch just over a decade ago, about $67 million in delinquent penalties have accrued. The agency has issued just 16 citations since 2007 for failure to pay final penalties, and only five orders requiring a mine to shut down operations while continuing to pay miners their wages.
The status quo is unacceptable and must change.
Beginning immediately, MSHA is stepping up its efforts to ensure mine operators pay the safety and health fines for which they are responsible and comply with safety standards. Ifoperators fail to show good faith and arrange to pay their penalties, MSHA will pursue them with every means under the law. Just as drivers who don’t pay their speeding tickets may see their driving privileges suspended, mine operators that do not pay their safety and health fines can be forced to cease production until fines are resolved. At all times, miners will be paid.
Ultimately, a more robust Scofflaw Program is about more than collecting unpaid fines. It is about promoting the health and safety of America’s proud miners. MSHA’s enforcement activities are intended to create safer working conditions for the men and women of the mining industry, who must return home safely to their families at the end of each shift.
David G. Zatezalo is the Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. He is a native of West Virginia who resided in Wheeling until being named to his current position.