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Criminal Violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (MSHA) provides for enforcement of by way of civil penalties, criminal penalties, or administrative enforcement methods. MSHA was enacted to protect mining workers. When a violation of MSHA is claimed, an investigation is conducted regarding the allegations of the violation. If a criminal division determines that a case referred to it warrants prosecution, the case will be referred to the office of the United States Attorney.

Criminal Provisions

Under MSHA, it is unlawful for any operator to willfully fail to comply with the mandatory health or safety standard or knowingly refuse to comply with the provisions of MSHA. An operator of a mine is subject to the provisions of MSHA. An operator is defined as any owner, lessee, or other person who controls or supervised a coal mine or other mine or any independent contractor performing services or construction at such mine.

In order to prove a violation of the MSHA has occurred, the prosecution must prove:

  • the defendant was an operator of a coal or other mine which was subject to MSHA;
  • the defendant violated a mandatory health or safety standard or an order of withdrawal at that mine; and
  • the violation was willful.

With respect to corporate operators, any director, officer or agent of the corporate operator may be liable for violations of MSHA. Furthermore, culpable agents of operators may be liable and punishable as principal offenders.

Other Criminal Violations

First, criminal penalties may be assessed against any individual, agent, or director that gave advance notice of any inspection to be conducted under MSHA. Second, criminal penalties may be assessed against any individual, agent or director that knowingly made any false statement or representation with respect to any procedures and duties required under MSHA. Third, criminal penalties may be assessed against any individual that knowingly distributed, sold or delivered in commerce any equipment for use in a coal or other mine which was represented as complying with MSHA, and actually does not comply.

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