A mine operator has learned the hard way that interfering with a mine inspection, and failing to abate an order will cost you some money.
ALJ Margaret Miller increased the fine of Veris Gold, operator of the Jerritt Canyon gold mine and mill, from MSHA’s proposed fine of $1,112 to $25,000 where she found that the safety manager intimidated an MSHA inspector, used abusive language, and continued to follow the MSHA inspector around the premises after being issued a withdrawal order for the abusive behavior.
MSHA was at the mine because of a hazard complaint made by a miner, which the safety director, Danny Lowe, said “was bullshit.” He followed the MSHA inspector, used abusive language through-out the inspection, and would not allow MSHA to view at least some records, arguing that MSHA did not have a right to do so. Lowe also called the local sheriff to have the inspector escorted off of mine property.
This is not the first time Lowe called law enforcement on MSHA. When he was safety director for Essroc, he called the local police and had an inspector escorted off of mine property when the inspector, who Lowe knew, had forgotten his AR card.
The judge said while mine operators have a right to have a company representative accompany the MSHA inspector, there is no right to harass and impede an investigation. The mine operator had other safety department representatives available, and in fact, another employee did accompany the inspector through most of the inspection. Miller said, “In keeping Lowe from participating, MSHA was no infringing on any right the mine had to allow a representative to accompany an inspector.”
The abatement time, which was set for five minutes and continued through to the inspection the next day, was reasonable.
Miller also noted that even if Lowe believed that he was allowed to accompany the inspector after being issued a withdrawal order to stay away from the inspection, Lowe was required first to abate the citation by staying away, “and then bring up the issue in the proper course. He did not do so and intentionally continued to ignore the instructions of the inspector.”
More details, and the full text of the decision, will be in the next issue of Mine Safety and Health News.