Important Changes to MSHA Conference Procedure

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration ("MSHA") recently announced that, beginning in January 2012, it would again allow mine operators to discuss citations and orders with MSHA through informal conferences prior to penalty assessment.

MSHA introduced the informal conference process in 1994 to address a growing backlog of formal contests before Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission Administrative Law Judges. The informal conference process, codified at 30 C.F. R. § 100.6, allows mine operators to informally review and discuss with MSHA each citation and order issued during an inspection. Conferences are typically held with the MSHA District Manager and designated MSHA Conference/Litigation Representatives. MSHA can vacate a citation or order at the informal conference if appropriate. Operators must request a conference within 10 days after issuance of a citation or order, however MSHA is not required to grant a conference request, even if timely submitted.

In March 2009, MSHA implemented changes to the informal conference process that deferred conferences until after civil penalties were proposed. (See Program Information Bulletin No. P09-05 and Procedure Instruction Letter No. I90-III-03.) This revised process required mine operators to both timely request a conference and timely contest the proposed civil penalties in order to be granted an informal conference. MSHA reasoned that conference deferral provided opportunity to resolve contested violations and their associated civil penalties at the same time.

MSHA announced in December 2011 that, in response to recent findings that replacement of pre- assessment conferences with post-assessment conferences contributed to a significant increase in contested violations, it would again implement pre-assessment informal conferences beginning in January 2012. These new procedures will be implemented in each MSHA district based on available resources, and may not be immediately available.

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