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Company Fined $15,000 for Highwall Violations

By Ellen Smith

Two citations for loose material in an overhanging highwall led to $15,000 in fines for Hoover Inc. for failing to correct hazardous conditions in violation of §56.3200. In one citation, the ALJ increased the penalty.

Hoover owns the Lebanon Quarry & Mill, a multi-bench surface-pit rock quarry in Tennessee.

In October 2008, MSHA issued two citations. In one case, MSHA found a 40-ft. highwall contained loose material, including rocks 5 ft. x 3 ft., and overhangs of up to 5 ft. MSHA also found several large cracks along the highwall. There were no berms or a barrier to prevent people from entering the area of the hazard, and the inspector was concerned that falling rocks could crush or crash through the cabs of the loaders.

The company admitted that they did not remove loose material after blasting; claiming that scaling would be dangerous and not economically feasible. Instead, miners would keep back 15 to 20 ft. from the toe.

ALJ Margaret A. Miller found that MSHA established the violation. Based on the testimony, she said the highwall’s condition “presented a hazard” to workers because bad weather or an explosion could easily cause the loose material to fall.

“The mine could have bermed-off or barricaded the area if it did not want to scale the highwall, however it failed to do so,” the ALJ said.

She also agreed it was S&S because of the falling rock hazard, which “would certainly be serious and potentially fatal” if it fell. Miller, however, increased MSHA’s proposed penalty from $4,099 to $5,000.

In the case of a second violation for §56.3200, the company had a berm, but material had been removed and cleaned right up to the toe.

This highwall also reached 40 ft. high, and also contained large, loose rocks. MSHA said it was S&S, with high negligence and a proposed penalty of $6,624. The ALJ agreed it was S&S and this time, with high negligence. The ALJ noted that MSHA discussed this exact issue with management on a previous occasion, yet loaders had been working directly under the loose material.

The company superintendent was aware of this practice and of the safety standard, and the ALJ agreed that the company “was highly careless in failing to supervise” the worker. Because of the high negligence, the fact that the hazard existed for an extended period and the failure to abate, ALJ Miller increased the fine to $10,000.