The U.S. Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health says he thinks a new rule, addressing problem mines, will make coal mining in West Virginia and across the United States safer.

Joe Main says the main goal of the final pattern of violations (POV) rule, which will officially take effect on March 25th, is to restore safe conditions to coal mines that are repeatedly cited for violations.

“We believe we have crafted a rule that will work to better protect the nation’s miners,” Main said on Thursday.

Changes to the pattern of violations program, which had been an option for MSHA since 1977, started in the months after the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.  In all, 29 coal miners were killed there.

MSHA had cited UBB for 639 violations in the 15 months leading up to the explosion.  However, in the total 33 years before the blast, no coal mine, including UBB, had ever been placed on “pattern of violations” status.

“I am very, very pleased to announce a final pattern of violations rule that will strengthen MSHA’s ability to deal with the nation’s most dangerous and troubling mines and bad mine operators,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on Thursday.

Main says the changes have already been helping, even before they were finalized.

As of last September, Main said the total violation rate was down 33% and only four mines had been identified as chronic violators.  “This final rule will improve on those successes,” Main said.

The final rule does the following:

*Allows MSHA to issue a pattern of violation notice without first issuing a potential pattern of violation notice.

*Eliminates the existing requirement that MSHA can consider only final orders in its pattern of violations review.

*Restates the statutory requirement that for mines in POV (pattern of violation) status, each safety violation will result in a withdrawal order until a complete inspection finds no such problems.

*Establishes general criteria and procedures that MSHA will use to identify mines with a pattern of safety violations.

Main says the rule is the third regulation finalized to prevent future coal dust explosions like the one at UBB.  Other rules have addressed rock dusting and underground mine exams.

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller praised the final POV rule.  “It was clear after Upper Big Branch that some companies were violating life saving mine safety requirements over and over again,” Senator Rockefeller said in a statement.

“I said then that I would work to reform and strengthen those rules so that mine operators who are repeat offenders stop shirking their responsibilities and start running mines that are fit for people to work in — and I’m keeping up that fight.”

He says MSHA’s rule includes many of the provisions in the mine safety bill he plans to reintroduce in the U.S. Senate soon.

This April will mark three years since the UBB Disaster.  “We believe this final rule will help prevent another such tragedy,” Main said.

You can see the full POV rule at www.msha.gov.

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