Citing a more simplified, consistent process and a greater emphasis on more serious conditions, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published a proposed rule that will change the way the industry is assessed civil penalties. The proposal, which was published in the Federal Register on July 31, will amend existing civil penalty regulations if made a final rule. MSHA said it has structured the new outlines to "encourage operators to be more accountable and proactive" in addressing their own safety and health conditions.

Specifically, the agency said that total federal proposed penalties and the distribution of the penalty amount by mine size would remain generally the same, especially for coal mines.

However, the penalty amount for small metal and nonmetal mines would decrease. The current minimum is $112 and the maximum is $70,000 for non-flagrant violations, a range, which will not change; minimum penalties for unwarrantable failure violations-that is, violations that constitute more than just ordinary negligence-would increase to provide a greater deterrent for mine operators, it said.

The proposed rule has been developed, MSHA said, in response to a presidential executive order requiring agencies to review and simplify regulations and to respond to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main's testimony in 2010 that the agency had a growing backlog of contested civil penalty cases.

The proposed rule can be viewed at www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.

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