Massachusetts Producer Settles with MSHA

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced a global settlement with Worcester Sand and Gravel Co. Inc., of Shrewsbury, Mass., to resolve citations and orders in three separate dockets. An administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission approved the settlements amounting to $181,200, the largest penalty amounts recovered from a mine operator in New England in the past decade.

In April 2013, MSHA issued a flagrant violation for the operator’s failure to prevent entry to a severely dilapidated garage on the Shrewsbury Trap Rock mine site. The maintenance garage had serious structural defects including fallen timbers, roof holes and rotten and deteriorated roof timbers and floor supports. MSHA alleged that these conditions presented dangerous and possibly fatal hazards to miners in the event the upper portion of the building collapsed while a miner worked in the area.

After an evaluation, inspectors deemed the violation as flagrant given “the mine operator’s reckless conduct in continuing to use the garage after MSHA ordered in January 2013 that the operator to lock the facility keep employees out of it.”

The mine operator agreed to accept the violation and pay the full, assessed penalty of $128,200. In addition, the mine operator instituted a change in management and agreed to retain an outside safety consultant experienced in mine safety, for purposes of improving its safety culture through training and performance of safety audits over the next 12 months.

Also in April 2013, MSHA issued a withdrawal order for the operator’s continuing failure to comply with other outstanding orders to address numerous chronic safety issues; this order included a $70,000 fine. The U.S. Secretary of Labor was prepared to prove the operator did not address – in any fashion in a 15-month period – 17 hazards that needed elimination. Both parties agreed to a reduced penalty of $27,500.

In January 2015, the third docket was issued for 17 violations embracing new safety issues, as well as failures to abate longer-standing safety derelictions. This docket bore an assessed penalty of $59,921, and the parties agreed to a reduced penalty of $25,300.

“In reaching this settlement, the secretary has evaluated the value of the compromise, the likelihood of obtaining a still better settlement, the prospects of coming out better, or worse, after a full trial, and the resources that would need to be expended in the attempt,” wrote Administrative Law Judge William B. Moran. He further noted the secretary’s view that “[a] change in internal management practices, coupled with a revamped safety effort under the eyes of an outside safety consultant was a strong inducement for MSHA to agree to a global settlement here, with a very substantial portion of the total penalties paid.”

Attorney James Polianites of the Boston office of the regional solicitor handled the negotiations on behalf of MSHA.

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