MSHA official Pat Silvey defended the proposal. "This would prevent some accidents because mine operators would be required to take actions earlier, before a hazardous condition develops,'' she said.
UMW International Representative Jerry Kerns II said the change would improve safety by eliminating judgment calls on whether a condition is hazardous.
"The current rule simply requires the mine examiner to look for hazards,'' Kerns said. "The proposal should result in a more thorough mine exam.''
The union also generally supports MSHA's proposal to change the way it identifies mines that demonstrate a pattern of serious violations. International Representative Brian Lacy suggested MSHA create more concrete criteria through the normal process of soliciting public comment. The agency has proposed periodic, informal revisions.
The coal industry, however, panned the proposal, arguing that MSHA's plan to make decisions based on citations for violations that haven't been finalized would be unconstitutional.
"MSHA's proposed rule, in our view, clearly violates mine operators' due process rights and principles of fundamental fairness,'' Hamilton said.
The union supports the agency's proposal to use citations that can still be appealed.
"It can take years to resolve a contested citation,'' Lacy said. "Conditions at the mine may bear no resemblance to what they were when the citation was originally issued.''