Employment Law Guide
Chapter: Mine Safety and Health
Updated: September 2005
Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act)
(30 USC §§ 801 et seq.;
30 CFR Parts 1 to 199)
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (Mine Act) covers all mine operators and miners throughout the U.S., including the District of Columbia,
the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Trust Territory of the
Pacific Islands. Under the Mine Act, a mine "operator" is defined as: "any owner, lessee, or other person
who operates, controls, or supervises a coal or other mine or any independent contractor performing service
or construction at such mine." A "miner" is any individual working in a coal or other mine. At this time,
the Mine Act covers approximately 300,000 miners and almost 14,000 mines.
The Mine Act requires that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspect all mines each year.
All underground mines are to receive at least four inspections annually; all surface operations are to be
inspected at least twice annually. MSHA is specifically prohibited from giving advance notice of an inspection,
and it is specifically authorized to enter mine property without a warrant.
The Mine Act requires or authorizes additional inspections and investigations to ensure safe and healthy
work environments for miners. For example, mines that release large amounts of methane gas are to receive
more frequent inspections; mines determined to be exceptionally hazardous may receive more frequent inspections.
Additionally, MSHA must investigate all fatal accidents and miners' complaints of discrimination based upon the
exercise of their rights under the Mine Act.
To promote compliance with the provisions of the Act and its safety and health standards,
all violations found during inspections and investigations must be cited. All violations are
subject to civil penalties, and all violations must be corrected within the time frames established by MSHA.
The Mine Act permits representatives of the operator and the miners to accompany MSHA
during inspections and participate in pre- and post-inspection conferences. If violations
are cited, the circumstances surrounding the violations are discussed during post-inspection conferences.
If these discussions do not result in resolution, the mine operator may appeal the citation and
the penalty to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent body, with further
appeal to the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
In addition to setting safety and health standards for preventing hazardous and unhealthy
conditions, MSHA's regulations establish requirements for immediate notification of accidents,
injuries, and illnesses; for training programs that meet the statutory requirements of the Mine Act;
and for obtaining approval for certain equipment used in gassy underground mines.
Mine operators must notify MSHA when they open or close a mine, and they may request the
modification of an existing safety standard on a site-by-site basis. Under the Mine Act,
MSHA may approve modifications only if it determines that the alternate method proposed
will guarantee no less than the same measure of protection afforded by the existing standards,
or that the application of MSHA's standard at the mine will result in a diminution of safety for miners.
A good safety and health program depends on the active participation and interest of everyone at a worksite.
Because Congress wants to encourage an active, responsible role for all parties in matters of mine safety and health,
the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 gives individual miners, their representatives, and job applicants
many rights. Deaths, injuries, and illnesses in the workplace can be decreased if all parties take advantage of these rights.
The Act gives miners the rights to:
- Designate a representative to accompany federal inspectors during
inspections at a mine;
- Obtain an inspection of the mine where reasonable grounds exist to
believe that an imminent danger, or a violation of the Act or of a safety or
health standard exists;
- Receive health and safety training;
- Be paid during certain periods of time when a mine or part of a mine
has been closed because of a withdrawal order;
- Be protected against discrimination based on the exercise of rights
under the Act; and
- Be informed of, and participate in, enforcement and legal proceedings
under the Act.
Miners' representatives also have specific rights under the Act in addition
to those rights given to individual miners. Moreover, applicants for mine work
have the right not to be discriminated against in hiring because they have
previously exercised rights provided under the Act.
If a miner, representative of miners, or job applicant, has general or
specific questions about rights under the Act, he or she should contact
the nearest MSHA office. The MSHA Web site lists locations and telephone
numbers for its offices nationwide.
MSHA develops safety and health training programs in cooperation with
industry and labor, tests new mining equipment, works with other agencies
to advance safety and health research programs, and compiles and analyzes
accident, injury, and illness data to better address serious workplace hazards.
MSHA has developed booklets, pamphlets, and pocket-size laminated cards,
which address known safety and health hazards and identify acceptable compliance
processes. MSHA routinely distributes its accident prevention materials to the
mining industry at large, or to those sectors of the industry that are experiencing
the injuries addressed by the materials.
MSHA's Web site contains compliance
assistance information, guidance, and helpful tips for the mining community.
For example, it lists upcoming seminars designed for mine operators and others
to receive the latest information about the requirements of a rule or to hear
about solutions to various safety and health problems.
Also, the Web site provides model forms, records, and plans for the mine operator
to use to comply with MSHA requirements, thus avoiding the need for the operator
to create these items independently. Through the Web site, mine operators may
file various reports directly with MSHA.
Small Mine Office (SMO) works closely, on-site, with mine operators having 5
or fewer employees to develop and implement health and safety programs tailored
to identify and eliminate hazards at their operations. The wide variety of
health and safety services offered include a worksite analysis of safety and
health conditions, assistance in developing a written health and safety program,
and safety and health toolbox talks for training employees.
The Alliance Program
enables trade associations or professional societies, labor organizations,
educational institutions, and other similar stakeholders that share an interest
in miner safety and health to collaborate with MSHA to prevent injuries and
illnesses in the nation’s mines. MSHA and the organizations sign a voluntary
agreement with goals that address training and education, outreach and
communication, technical assistance, and promote national dialogue on mine
safety and health.
The Mine Act authorizes a state grants program, funded at about
$7.6 million annually, which MSHA administers. MSHA works with the
states to stimulate the development of individual state programs
that focus on identifiable safety and health problems. Many of the
states use the grants for education and training, particularly for
smaller mining operations that cannot provide updated, effective training.
MSHA's Mine Health and Safety Academy, located in Beckley, West
Virginia, develops and provides safety and health training courses for its own
inspectors as well as for industry and labor. A "Mine Simulation Laboratory",
located on the Academy grounds, provides hands-on training in rescue and
recovery operations for certain mine emergencies.
MSHA's Approval and Certification Center (A&CC), located near
Wheeling, West Virginia, houses laboratories, equipment and personnel to test
equipment that must be approved before it can be used in certain areas of gassy
underground mines. The A&CC also is responsible for monitoring the
performance of approved products to ensure that they meet the standards under
which they were originally approved.
A variety of information on MSHA's programs, as well as its existing and
proposed standards, can be found on MSHA's Web site. Also, MSHA has a number of
elaws Advisors that provide assistance
in understanding and applying MSHAs regulations.
MSHA maintains a 24-hour toll-free telephone number that can be used to
report accidents. That number is 1-800-746-1553. MSHA maintains another
toll-free number to report hazardous conditions. That number is 1-800-746-1554,
and the caller need not identify himself or herself. The appropriate
MSHA district office also can be contacted.
Additional information about MSHA, its programs and policies may be
obtained from the MSHA Office of Information, Room 601, 4015 Wilson Boulevard,
Arlington, Virginia, 22203-1984. The telephone number is 202-693-9422.
The Mine Act established a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation
against mine operators for violations found and cited. As a result of the
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, the maximum was increased to
Non-serious violations (violations that are not designated "significant
and substantial") that are promptly corrected normally receive a "single
penalty" assessment of $55. More serious violations and non-serious violations
that are not promptly corrected are usually assessed using a formula that
incorporates six criteria specified for determining penalty amounts by the Mine
Some violations are of such a nature or seriousness that use of the
formula would not result in an appropriate penalty. In these cases most
often involving fatalities, serious injuries, and unwarranted failure to comply
with standards MSHA may waive the formula and propose a "special
assessment." In developing such an amount, the facts are independently reviewed
to determine a penalty amount that will have the deterrent effect contemplated
by the Statute. Title 30, Part 100 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains
the regulations governing the civil penalty process.
The Mine Act also provides for either civil penalties against
individuals for "knowing" violations, or criminal sanctions against mine
operators who "willfully" violate safety and health standards. MSHA reviews
particular citations and orders for possible knowing or willful violations. In
general, the violations reviewed include those involving imminently dangerous
situations and a high degree of negligence or reckless disregard. MSHA
initiates and conducts investigations of possible knowing or willful
violations. If evidence of willful violations is found, the case is referred to
the Department of Justice.
The Mine Act does not give MSHA the authority to cede its
responsibilities to states or any other political subdivisions. The Mine Act
does not preempt state mine safety and health laws, except insofar as they may
conflict with the Mine Act or MSHA's regulations. States may have more
stringent health and safety standards.
The Employment Law Guide is offered as a public resource. It
does not create new legal obligations and it is not a substitute for the U.S.
Code, Federal Register, and Code of Federal Regulations as the official sources
of applicable law. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information
provided is complete and accurate as of the time of publication, and this will
continue. Later versions of this Guide will be offered at
www.dol.gov/compliance or by calling our Toll-Free
Help Line at 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365).