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A West Virginia coal mine operator of under reported its injury record to avoid stricter enforcement, federal regulators said.

Maple Coal Co. must improve the safety record at its Maple Eagle No. 1 mine or have the mine listed as a persistent violator of federal laws, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said. A mine found to have a pattern of serious safety violations would face stricter enforcement by the agency.

A spokesman for Maple’s owner, British Columbia-based Western Coal, was not immediately available for comment. MSHA based its assessment on the 12 months ended in August. Maple has since beefed up its safety department by hiring the former director of West Virginia’s Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.

The agency said it missed the Fayette County mine in a November screening for mines with possible patterns of violations. MSHA said they missed Maple because the company had 12 unreported or underreported injuries that resulted in miners missing 124 days of work. The omitted injuries turned up during an audit, MSHA said.

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“We will not simply rely on injury data submitted by mine operators when conducting reviews for a potential POV enforcement action,” MSHA director Joe Main said. “MSHA will continue to conduct audits at mine operations that appear close to qualifying for a potential POV.”

Maple now has 110 days to come up with a plan to cut the rate of serious violations at Maple in half or face the prospect of the feds closing the mine every time they cite it for a serious safety problem. If Maple chooses not to craft a plan, it has to cut the violation rate 70 percent.

The Maple mine employs 89 underground miners and seven surface workers, according to MSHA. It produces about 350,000 tons of high-priced metallurgical coal for steelmakers every year.

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