A federal appeals court found that a Minnesota mine was properly issued a reckless flagrant violation for telling miners to work on an elevated walkway that was known to be unsafe for more than a year.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Aug. 22 that the operator of the Lake County iron ore mine, Northshore Mining Co., committed a flagrant violation, allowing for fines of up to $291,234.
Two managers were also held personally liable for the violation and each was assessed with a $4,000 fine based on their lack of effort to encourage repairs despite knowing about the dangerous walkway.
First time court considers designation
For the first time, the court considered what constitutes a reckless flagrant violation under the Mine Act, according to the Department of Labor.
The act defines a flagrant violation as “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory health or safety standard that substantially and proximately caused, or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury.”
In this case, the court found the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) definition of “reckless” was reasonable and Northshore’s failure to maintain the walkway met that definition. The court found the violation occurred because of Northshore’s reckless disregard and its failure to comply with federal mine safety standards was “unwarrantable.”
The court ordered a civil penalty for the violation because of the flagrant designation. The amount of that penalty hasn’t been released at this time.
Management aware of walkway defects
An independent engineering firm reported to Northshore in June 2015 that an elevated walkway at its iron ore processing plant was structurally inadequate and unsafe for use. Defects in the walkway weren’t readily visible because mud and debris often covered it, hiding it from miners’ view.
Northshore management continued to have miners use the walkway. In September 2016, a miner who was working from the walkway was injured when it collapsed.
The Mine Safety and Health Act requires mine operators to maintain elevated walkways in good condition and to barricade or post warning signs regarding hazards that aren’t immediately obvious.
MSHA investigated the incident and issued enforcement actions for failure to comply with the requirements. The agency also designated the walkway violation as flagrant and held the two managers personally liable for knowingly ordering miners to use the walkway despite knowing it was unsafe.