R&D Mine Coal Co. Inc. must pay $905,825 in penalties as the result of “flagrant” safety violations that caused the Oct. 23, 2006, blast that left a coal miner dead, the U.S. Department of Labor said.
“Mine operators must be held accountable for their failure to keep miners safe,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.
The settlement order by Administrative Law Judge Avram Weisberger marks the first time the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited a mining company for flagrant violations under the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006.
MSHA found when an unconfined shot detonated at the face of R&D’s Buck Mountain Mine, methane gas exploded in an inadequately ventilated area. The explosion killed coal miner Dale Reightler, 43.
Officials permanently closed and sealed the mine.
In 2007, MSHA fined R&D $874,500, and department spokeswoman Amy Louviere said there were additional penalties that accounted for the larger amount Weisberger imposed.
“This is a significant amount of money,” Louviere said. “They were very serious violations.”
Those violations included failure to comply with approved ventilation and roof control plans, poor blasting practices, assigning unqualified personnel to blasting work and conducting improper preshift examinations, according to MSHA.
MSHA said six of the 10 violations it ruled contributed to the accident were flagrant, which the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act defines as “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory safety and health standard that substantially and proximately caused, or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury.”
Before Weisberger’s order, R&D had contested all the violations.
William J. Cluck, Harrisburg, R&D’s lawyer, said Thursday they would not appeal the judgment but declined further comment.
Three men charged with causing the explosion, owner David P. Zimmerman, foreman Steven D. Zimmerman and miner Jeffrey T. Klinger, already have had their day in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County Criminal Court.
On Nov. 4, 2009, David Zimmerman, 55, and Steven Zimmerman, 36, both of Pine Grove, each pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and guilty to recklessly endangering another person and three violations of the state Anthracite Coal Mining Act.
Judge Jacqueline L. Russell sentenced David Zimmerman to spend six months on house arrest and 17 months on probation, and Steven Zimmerman to spend three to 23 months in prison, with eligibility for work release and continuation of drug treatment. She also ordered each man to pay costs, a $1,000 fine and $50 to the Criminal Justice Enhancement Account, and perform 20 hours of community service.
By pleading no contest to the involuntary manslaughter charge, the Zimmermans, who are father and son, did not admit committing that crime, but offered no defense to it, agreed prosecutors had enough evidence to prove them guilty and agreed to sentencing as if they had pleaded to or been found guilty.
That case represented the first time sentences had been imposed in Pennsylvania for manslaughter charges stemming from a fatal mine accident.
On Sept. 16, 2009, Klinger, 45, pleaded guilty to blasting coal or rock without first obtaining a certificate to mine, as well as storing explosives or detonators in the direct line of blasting. Russell sentenced him to 60 days probation; however, Klinger has spent time in prison on the charges due to probation violations.