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Department of Labor proposes stricter mining safety standards

Safety advocacy groups in South Carolina were likely pleased on June 7 when the Labor Department proposed tougher inspection and reporting standards for the mining industry. According to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, more than 60 percent of the 122 mineworkers killed while on the job between 2010 and 2015 lost their lives in accidents connected with violations of safety regulations.

The Labor Department proposal calls for mine operators to conduct thorough safety inspections before any work commences. Miners would also have to be notified promptly when potentially dangerous conditions are discovered during these inspections. Mine operators are currently permitted to perform these inspections when work is already underway, and they are not compelled to tell miners about unsafe conditions right away.

The proposed regulations would also require mine operators to keep more detailed records. Under the proposed rules, a responsible individual would have to sign and date an examination record at the end of each shift. This record would include details about the locations inspected, the unsafe conditions discovered and the remedial steps taken. An MSHA representative referred to the proposed measures as a common sense approach to a serious problem, and he voiced hopes that they could prompt mine operators to take proactive action to improve workplace safety.

Employers who frequently violate safety regulations may face civil and criminal sanctions, and attorneys with experience in this area could recommend that injured workers file a lawsuit against their employers instead of filing workers' compensation claims when gross negligence seems clear. Civil litigation allows punitive damages to be awarded in certain situations, and one of these situations is behavior by employers that is so reckless it amounts to a willful intent to cause harm.

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