Rosebud Mining sued over warnings

Brian Bowling
| Friday, Dec. 31, 2010

The Labor Department filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to stop Rosebud Mining Co. officials from warning workers when federal mine inspectors enter one of the Kittanning company's 18 underground mines.

In affidavits filed with the lawsuit, Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors describe how surface personnel at Rosebud's Mine 78 in Somerset County and Tracy Lynne mine in Armstrong County ignored orders not to signal underground workers about the inspectors' arrival, then laughed when they were caught.

The two mines were among 111 "troubling" mines that MSHA selected nationwide for extra inspections after the April 5 explosion that killed 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. The mines were picked based on their track record of mine safety violations and several other factors, including high accident and injury rates.

Giving advance notice of a mine inspection is illegal and carries a penalty of up to $1,000 in fines and six months in prison.

Leni Fortson, a Labor Department spokesman, said MSHA wants the court to issue a preliminary injunction telling Rosebud Mining to stop breaking the law.

"We want to stop it from happening again," she said.

If a federal judge issues the injunction and company personnel violate it, the agency can ask the judge to hold the company in contempt of court, Fortson said. The agency obtained a federal preliminary injunction in May against two Kentucky mines for similar violations.

Jim Baker, vice president of Rosebud Mining, said he hadn't heard of the lawsuit and had no response to its allegations.

"We'll have to check on it and see what's going on," he said.

In the past few months, MSHA has changed how it conducts inspections, he added.

MSHA stepped up efforts to hold surprise inspections in coal mines after the Upper Big Branch disaster. Miners said officials with the Massey Energy Co. subsidiary that operated the mine would signal workers before inspectors entered the mine so that the workers could cover up health and safety violations that could have led to the mine's being temporarily shut down.

The agency issued a bulletin in August warning coal operators that it would bring enforcement actions against companies that continued to warn workers that inspectors were entering a mine.

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