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DOL/MSHA Media Advisory
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (202) 693-9425

Released Wednesday, June 25, 2003

MSHA Levies Fine for Alabama Mine Accident

ARLINGTON, Va. - The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has levied a $435,000 penalty against Jim Walter Resources, Inc., for eight violations of Federal mining regulations that directly contributed to the September 23, 2001, coal mine explosions that claimed the lives of 13 miners.

"While we understand that there is no amount of money that can properly put into context the loss of human life, we have exercised our enforcement capability to the fullest extent allowed by law on this matter," said Dave D. Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "It is our sincere hope that the mining industry will take the lessons learned from this tragedy to prevent such occurrences in the future."

Lauriski continued, "In our 2004 budget, we said that the agency will seek to raise the maximum penalty to $220,000 because the current cap is sometimes too low to do justice considering the circumstances of some mining violations. Certain flagrant violations of mine safety and health rules that result in loss of life should be assessed an amount higher than the current maximum. The violations contributing to the JWR accident could fall into that category."

In MSHA's investigation of the accident at Mine No.5 in Brookwood, Alabama, the agency found that a roof collapse at an underground battery charging station set the stage for the first of two explosions by interfering with mine ventilation. Within minutes, an electric arc from a battery ignited methane gas. The first explosion injured four miners, one seriously, and further damaged the ventilation controls. A second, more massive explosion, fueled by both methane and coal dust, most likely was ignited by an underground traffic light.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act sets MSHA's maximum penalty and requires that the agency consider six factors in assessing civil penalties. They are the size of the operator's business, the history of violations cited at the mine, degree of negligence, gravity of the violation, demonstrated good faith in correcting the violation, and the effect of the penalty on the operator's ability to continue in business.