NSSGA is pleased that the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission announced Monday its unanimous decision that let stand an administrative law judge’s 2013 ruling that an MSHA inspector erred in 2012 by issuing two citations to D&B Drilling. The inspector had alleged that the operator, while standing as many as 20 feet away, had not attended his drill. The case was litigated by the Law Office of Adele L. Abrams PC, whose lead attorney was Tina Stanczewski.
NSSGA had submitted an amicus brief, drafted by Jason Nutzman of Dinsmore in September, 2013, supporting the ALJ’s determination that the inspector’s interpretation of “attended” (taken from 30 USC 56.7012 / ‘tending drills in operation’) was plainly erroneous, and not entitled to deference. The brief further argued that concurrence with the inspector’s interpretation would necessitate sweeping changes in the drilling sector that would be financially detrimental and extraordinarily dangerous.
The Commission ruled that the inspector had been wrong for asserting that “attending” a drill requires drill operators to remain within arm’s reach of drill controls. This is because a drill operator must perform such functions as maintenance, and checks for ground stability that necessitate that he go some distance away from the drill. Further, there was evidence that, contrary to the inspector’s citations, the operator was in fact attending the drill. The decision lauded the research showing the various safety functions needing to be performed some distance away from the drill.
NSSGA vice president for safety, Joseph Casper, commented “We knew of too many complaints of errant citations. And we also knew that the problems in these actions taken both by an MSHA inspector, and the Solicitor, risked harming many of our operators and drillers. Further, we were frustrated that, rather than improving inspector consistency, MSHA seemed intent on appealing an ALJ decision that was clearly a sound one. Casper continued, “We therefore believed that this was a case on which NSSGA could reiterate its belief that enforcement should be done right, and in a manner consistent with the letter and spirit of the standard. This case was worth it.”