Interfering With Inspection Will Cost Big Bucks

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.

Massey Executive Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charges

Former Massey Energy Co. executive David Hughart, 53, of Crab Orchard, W.Va., pleaded guilty to two federal crimes today in connection with an ongoing investigation of the company’s actions uncovered during the Upper Big Branch disaster investigation.

Hughart, the former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group, admitted that he conspired to impede MSHA investigations and conspired to violate mine health and safety laws.

“Mine safety and health laws are not optional,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “This prosecution reiterates the message that mine safety violations are very serious crimes.”

Hughart admitted that he and others at Massey conspired to violate health and safety laws and concealed those violations by warning mining operations when MSHA inspectors were arriving to conduct mine inspections.

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division. Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., which acquired Massey’s operations in a June 2011 merger, is continuing to cooperate with the investigation.

Hughart faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine when he is sentenced on June 25, 2013 by United States District Judge Irene C. Berger. Hugart is the third person to be convicted from the UBB investigation.

Hughie Elbert Stover, head of security, was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to investigators and destroying documents from the UBB mine (19 MSHN 139). His conviction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Former UBB mine superintendent Gary May was sentenced to 21 months in jail and a $20,000 fine under the conspiracy statute (20 MSHN 43).

Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby is handling the prosecution.