When a reportable injury occurs at a mine to an  employee of an independent contractor which has no  supervisory duty there , the mine operator, not the  contractor, must report the injury to MSHA, a federal appeals court in Richmond has made clear.

That decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  Fourth Circuit, however, also raises two other issues.   First, if the independent contractor does have  supervisory responsibility, is it also required to report?  The decision is  silent on this question. Second, if two  or more “operators” meeting the regulatory definition are at a mine, does each have to report the injury even  though the employees of neither operator incurred the  injury?   Here, the answer appears to be “yes.”  

The incident triggering the litigation occurred after an  employee of Bates Contracting & Construction was  injured at Dickenson-Russell Coal (DRC) Co.’s Roaring  Fork No. 4 Mine in Virginia.  Bates reported the accident  on MSHA’s 7000-1 form, but the operator did not  because it had a policy at the time of not reporting  contract workers’ injuries.

MSHA cited the operator, DRC, for failing to timely  report, an alleged violation of its Part 50.20(a)  regulation, and assessed a $127 fine.  The company appealed, but an administrative law judge ruled the  definition of “operator” in the Part 50 regulation was  controlling and thus DRC had to report. As for the  contractor’s filing, the judge described it as “gratuitous.”   After the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review  Commission declined to review the decision, DRC  appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

The appeals panel noted the judge’s decision was  narrow in that he did not consider what Bates’s reporting role would have been had it possessed  supervisory responsibility at the mine, which it did not.  The panel added that it had no reason to disturb the  ALJ’s decision, thus leaving that question unresolved.

But the Court went on to hold that where two or more  operators are subject individually to the Part 50  reporting requirement, each  one of them must report  every qualifying accident or injury.   This appears to  mean all mine operators on a job site must report an  accident even if none of their employees was injured.

The judges were unfazed about the duplicative  reporting this interpretation would create.   “Coordination between operators is therefore necessary  if each operator is to accurately report the injury to  MSHA while minimizing the already slight duplication of  effort caused when multiple operators gather the same  information about a reportable injury before filing  separate reports,” they wrote.