A new rule revises the Mine Safety and Health Administration's pattern of violations (POV) regulation to ensure that mine operators monitor and address the most hazardous safety problems in their mines.

The POV final rule, which reflects several recommendations made by the Labor Department's Office of the Inspector General in a September 2010 report, strengthens MSHA's ability to deal with the nation's most dangerous, troubling mines and mine operators. It places the agency in a better position to identify operators that demonstrate a disregard for the health and safety of miners and have not responded to other enforcement measures.

“There has been recognition by many that the system has been broken, with no mine being placed on POV status until 2011 – 33 years after the law went into effect,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor – MSHA. “MSHA should not be prevented from taking action to protect the lives of miners for months, or even years, while we await the final outcome of citations and orders that a mine operator can easily contest. The new rule addresses those flaws.”

The tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine should not be forgotten, said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “It exacted a terrible toll on the nation, coal miners' families and coal companies,” she noted. “Over the last 3 years, the Labor Department has undergone a serious and comprehensive evaluation of mine safety practices, and that has led to reforms to protect America's miners. The rule we are announcing today will hold mine operators accountable when they disregard life-saving safety measures.”

The final rule represents one of MSHA's highest priority regulatory initiatives, said Main, adding it addresses Congress' intent that this regulation encourage chronic violators to comply with the Mine Act and MSHA's health and safety standards.

"We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” added Main. “It promotes consistency in applying the POV notice as an enforcement tool, provides for a more open and transparent process, emphasizes operators' responsibility to comply with safety and health standards and monitor their own compliance, and more effectively achieves the statutory intent of the Mine Act.”