BECKLEY, W.Va. (WOAY) —After being subjected to a “Pattern of Violations Notice” (POV) for almost five years, Pocahontas Coal Company has entered into a settlement agreement with the United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, terminating the POV Notice first issued on Oct. 24, 2013. The POV Notice termination was effective as of Aug. 28, 2018. Pocahontas is among the mines operated by United Coal Company LLC.
After receiving the POV Notice, litigation against MSHA ensued regarding whether the agency followed its own guidance in placing the Affinity Mine on the POV. After two years of litigation, including going before an administrative law judge, the case made its way to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) where it sat on appeal for almost two years without resolution. The August 28thagreement reached between the parties resolved the issues and removed the case from further consideration by the Commission.
John Schroder, CEO of United Coal Company LLC, the corporate parent of Pocahontas Coal said: “I am very proud of the Affinity Mine and its people. This is a first class mine that operates with high standards and true professionalism. To finally be released from the POV is a result of hard work and dedication toward having the best safety and compliance in the industry.”
“The Affinity team was very relieved to hear that the POV is terminated, but understand our commitment and actions towards safety and compliance will not change, said Jeff Birchfield, Affinity Mine manager. “Affinity will remain committed towards our core values…obtain zero incidents and world-class compliance rates.”
Since 2013, Pocahontas’ Affinity Mine has vastly improved its safety and regulatory compliance history. In that time period, less than 10% of the total number of enforcement actions issued to the Affinity Mine have been marked as significant and substantial (“S&S”) violations.
Additionally, Pocahontas’ Affinity Mine has not met MSHA’s POV screening criteria for a considerable amount of time.
In the most recent screening period (as of August 15, 2018) the Affinity Mine was well below the rate of 8.0 S&S enforcement actions issued per 100 inspection hours (1.7); well below the degree of negligence for at least 25% of S&S enforcement actions issued during the most recent 12 months as high or reckless disregard (3.9%); below at least 0.5 elevated enforcement actions issued per 100 inspection hours (0.1); and below the injury severity measure of 420.6 (43.6). The only criteria the Affinity Mine met was receiving more than 50 S&S enforcement actions in the past 12 months (51). Likewise, the Affinity Mine did not meet the second set of criteria to be placed on a pattern of violations. This includes at least 100 S&S enforcement actions in the past 12 months (51) and at least 40 elevated enforcement actions issued in the past 12 months (3).
“The data clearly establishes that Pocahontas’ Affinity Mine has worked diligently to improve its safety and regulatory compliance record,” Birchfield said.
Don Jones, director of safety for United Coal said, “It is good news that an agreement could be reached with MSHA to have Affinity Mine removed from POV. Affinity Mine is the only mine in the country to have been placed on POV, that remained operating while on POV, and did so for almost five years. That was accomplished only through the strong leadership from the mine management team and commitment from the work force.”