The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently released mining industry and enforcement data that reflects noteworthy changes the industry has experienced over the last six years. Of particular significance in the data from an enforcement perspective is the fact that, while the overall number of mines has decreased and there has been a reduction in numbers of citations and total civil penalties, the percentage of citations marked “significant and substantial” (S&S) has held steady across the industry. In sum, the number of S&S citations has not decreased at the rate one would expect given the overall reduction in alleged violations.

The data indicates that the number of coal mines has dropped from 2,129 in 2008 to 1,630 in 2014, a decrease of 23 percent. Total metal/nonmetal mines have decreased by only 6 percent, from 12,778 in 2008 to 11,958 in 2014. At the same time, the number of citations and orders issued to all mines dropped significantly from 173,550 in 2008 to 121,646 in 2014. Thus, in this period while the number of total mines dropped 9 percent, the number of citations decreased by 30 percent overall. The largest decrease was in the coal industry at 41 percent. The decrease in citations issued in the metal/nonmetal sector was a more modest 12 percent. In that same period, the total amount of civil penalties assessed dropped by 40 percent, from $143 million to $86 million, with nearly all the penalty decrease residing in the coal industry. 

Notably, in spite of the decrease in citations issued, the percentage of all citations designated as S&S held steady (27 percent in 2008 and 26 percent in 2014). This statistic carries particular import as S&S findings are a key factor in pattern of violation enforcement. This is particularly concerning for the metal/nonmetal sector where the percentage of S&S citations has increased from a low of 21 percent in 2008 to 25 percent in 2014, including a 1 percent increase over 2013. Although the total percentage of S&S citations is not tracking the reductions in the other key data reported by MSHA, the 2014 percentage of S&S citations is still lower than the high water mark seen in 2010 when 32 percent of all citations (31 percent of those issued to metal/nonmetal mines) were issued as S&S.

A New Option for Paying MSHA Penalties

MSHA has added an online option to pay civil penalties. To do so, go to “Pay.gov” and look under the column titled “I Need to Pay” and choose “Fine, Violation, or Penalty.” Then scroll down to “MSHA Civil Penalty Payment” to access the payment form and pay by credit/debit card, or directly from a bank account (ACH). A direct link to the MSHA penalty payment form can be found here.