Updated (8/15/10 2:00 pm EST) below
Mine rescue teams continue their search to rescue or recover two workers struck by a "large surge of pressure" as they were being lowered into a mine shaft at Barrick's Meikle mine near Elko, Nevada. As the Associated Press reports, the incident occurred on Thursday, August 12 at 1:15 am local time. As of 2:00 pm (EST) on August 13, MSHA did not have information on its website about the incident.
An inspection by three federal mine inspectors of Barrick's Meikle mine was ongoing at the time of the incident. (Like underground coal mines, other underground mining operations---whether gold, salt, stone or whatever----are also required to be inspected by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) four times per year.) As part of that inspection, Barrick has received 12 citations for violations such as failing to provide appropriate ground support, failing to maintain unventilated areas, violating standards designed to prevent the spread of toxic gases and fire from underground maintenance shops into the mine; and failing to have a competent person examine the workplace for hazards.
In just the last year, MSHA has investigated a number of incidents at the Meikle mine that could have led to serious injuries or deaths. These include a case of heat stress, an inundation of ammonia gas, a fire, rib falls, and hoisting problems. (A hoisting incident in 2000 killed a miner at another one of Barrick's Nevada operations.) In all but one of the instances, MSHA issued citations.
The Meikle mine has racked up more than $400,000 in penalties over the last two years for hundreds of violations, and is contesting most of them. Barrick has paid less than $20,000 in the assessed penalties and has $30,000 in penalties listed as "delinquent." This means their case has been adjudicated and they still haven't paid the penalty. The phenomenon of large mining companies violating basic health and safety standards, contesting citations and not paying civil penalties is not unique to the coal industry.
Update (8/14/10, 4:45 pm EST): The Associated Press is reporting that human remains have been found at the bottom of the mine shaft and are believed to be those of the two missing gold miners. This news is provided by Dale Lotspeich, the Elko County sheriff and coroner, with supplemental information provided by Barrick company officials. MSHA, on the other hand, has not been a prominent provider of updates about the incident, despite a legislative requirement to serve as the "primary communicator" in situations involving multiple deaths of mine workers. The Miner Act of 2006 (Section 7) required the Secretary of Labor to institute a policy so that MSHA
"shall serve as the primary communicator with the operator, miners' families, the press and the public."
To answer those who've asked me, yes, the provision applies at gold mines, not just fatal incidents at coal mines.
Update (8/15/2010, 2:00 pm EST): The Associated Press is reporting that the bodies of the two deceased workers, Daniel Noel, 47 and Ethan Schorr, 38, have been recovered from Barrick's Meikle mine.
While just speculation this sounds like an air burst. Historically they happened for example in the Quincy Mine in the copper country in Mi, in the 1920s (the mine closed in the 1960s) likely when an old stope collapsed. Inadaquate ground support could well cause such a collapse.
Quick question: when companies refuse to pay fines after adjudication, is it legal? Can they have assets seized, or have criminal charges laid?
I know there are means to force payment of fines when individuals violate civil law, but don't similar means exist in these circumstances?
When mining companies refuse to pay adjudicated penalties they are considered delinquent and a referred to a collection agency to try to get the company to pay. I know of a few examples of mining companies that "go out of business" and never pay the civil penalties assessed to them, and then proceed to open a business under another name. There is currently no procedure under the MSHA statute to seize assets or the like, but I think you're onto something. What about a prohibition on giving them a federal mine ID when they attempt to open a mine under another name?
There might be some difficulty with establishing continuity of ownership for a corporation, since it's its own entity.
Now, if fines went both to the corporation and, say, the CEO or Board of Directors jointly, that might make enforcement more easily.
Being as fines seem to be the only teeth labour laws possess, it's pretty disheartening to hear that they can't be enforced effectively.