Winner of 33 national journalism awards including the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Awards,
APEX Grand Awards; National Press Club award, Newsletter Publishers Foundation Awards; Magnum Opus Awards.
SIPA credentialed. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Current Issue: Vol. 22, No. 2 | January, 30 2015

  • Accidents:
    • Contract worker seriously burned at Alcoa Bayer Plant (27)
    • Scoop knocks foreman off ladder at Deep Mine 41 (28)
    • Continuous mining machine injures employee at Kronos Mine (29)
    • Roof support crushes employee’s foot in Shoemaker Mine (29)
    • No violations found after skull fracture at Richland No. 9 (30)
    • Parke County Aggregates settles CO poisoning case for $12,000 (31)
    • Buzzi Unicem settles violation tied to contractor’s electrical shock and injury (32)
    • Pogo Mine has second ground control incident in 2 months (32)
    • Ore hoist damaged accident at Cote Blanche Mine (33)
    • Miner sues company, contractor for near-fatal accident (33)
  • Criminal Proceedings: Florida contractor begins 180 day home confinement (34)
  • Electrical Standards: Case sent back for determination of unwarrantable standards (35)
  • Fatalities:
    • MSHA responds to increase in metal and nonmetal deaths (36)
    • Rock fall causes death in Doe Run’s Fletcher Mine (37)
    • Swift Creek Phosphate Mine Is scene of fatal excavator overturn (38)
    • Unsafe fall-protection tie-off caused shaft worker death at Sunshine Mine (39)
    • Actions of Spring Creek truck driver unexplained in fatal dump-site plunge (40)
    • ALJ upholds unwarrantable failure findings for violations that led to death of Consol miner (42)
  • On the Move: From Congress to civilian life, Miller reflects on mine safety (44)
  • Review Commission Orders and ALJ Decisions (47)

Single issues of Mine Safety and Health News are available for purchase for $30. We accept Visa, Master Card and Discover Card. You may request a copy by emailing us at: MineSafety@aol.com. Yearly subscriptions are available for $625/yr. Corporate discounts allowing copying rights for entire companies are available.

MSHA hotline for immediately reportable accidents, CPR for any reason, imminent danger or hazardous conditions: 800-746-1553 (call within 15 minutes of accident)

Recent Posts

MSHN, NPR Win IRE Award for Delinquent Fines Collaboration

Investigative Reporters & Editors unveiled the 2014 winners of the IRE Awards on April 3, with “a stellar lineup” according to IRE, including Ellen Smith of Mine Safety and Health News who partnered with Howard Berkes, Anna Boiko-Weyrauch and Robert Benincasa of National Public Radio.

For 20 years, Smith has tracked mine owners across the U.S. with delinquent mine safety fines. Under the 1977 Mine Act, the mines are allowed to continue to operate even if they fail to pay their MSHA fines for health and safety violations. What Smith could never determine was whether these mines with unpaid fines were statistically more unsafe than the mine where operators paid their fines.

After the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster, Smith and NPR’s Howard Berkes began to discuss a collaboration, and then in 2013, worked with Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, a former data analyst with the Database Library of the National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting at the University of Missouri. Anna and NPR’s Robert Benincasa, were able to download and analyze 20 years’ worth of raw data sets, and were able to show for the first time, with statistical confidence, that operators who fail to pay their fines have an injury rate that is 50% – 70% higher than operators who pay their fines.

The analysis looked at accidents that involved days away from work, and accidents where miners were temporarily or permanently disabled. Simple first-aid, and occupational illnesses were not calculated.

Using a *one-day snapshot, they found and tracked $77 million in unpaid fines, some going back years. These mining companies operated more than 4,000 mines and while they were delinquent, committed 131,000 violations. The collaboration between Smith and the NPR team found human stories to illustrate the data, from anguished families whose relatives were killed in mining accidents to one billionaire owner whose mines had large unpaid fines. (*Smith used a snap-shot in Sept. 2014, while NPR used a snap-shot from March 2014).

Smith’s story also highlighted 99 mining company controllers who owe the government over $100,000 to $4.7 million in unpaid health and safety fines. Smith runs an annual list of controlling companies that owe over $100,000 in fines.

“This issue is a matter of life and death for miners, and a matter of a level playing field for companies,” Smith said. “Only about 7% of all mines don’t pay their fines, but they are allowed to continue to operate and compete with operators who do pay their fines on time.”

“Why should a cement producer, or quarry, or coal mine operator who does the right thing, have to compete with other operations who refuse to pay their fines? I am all about fair,” Smith said, “and the bottom line is, none of this is fair, and it’s an issue that I have tried to highlight over my entire career.”

“Because of this collaboration with National Public Radio, we know for certain that miners are at a higher risk of injury at these operations. There is no excuse for not making changes in this current system that permits these mines with extreme amounts of delinquent fines to stay open. While some may argue that MSHA fines are unfair, the bottom line is there are plenty of companies operating who do their very best to keep a clean, healthy work environment for their employees, they are productive, and receive minimal to no citations.”

Smith was notified of the award five years after the April 5, 2010, Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed, and the story that sparked her collaboration with NPR. “If MSHA had the ability to shut down delinquent mines, and UBB was one of those mines, those 29 miners may still be alive today,” Smith said.

Smith’s report can be downloaded here:

The MSHN/NPR collaboration can be heard here: http://www.npr.org/series/363761319/delinquent-mines

This is Smith’s 34th journalism award of her career. She has been previously recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, National Press Club, and the Specialized Information Publishers Assn. among others, for her reporting on mine safety issues around the country.

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