The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has designated three coal mines as pattern violators, meaning that they have repeatedly broken federal health and safety regulations over the past 12 months.

Two of the mines are located in West Virginia, while the third is in Kentucky. One of them, Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, owned by Pocahontas Coal Company, became known when two employees died within two weeks of each other earlier this year. The other West Virginia-based mine is Brody Mining's Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, while the last designated mine is Mine No. 1, operated by Tram Energy in Floyd County, Ky.

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These are the first mines given pattern violator status since the implementation of the new screening criteria in March. However, Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, pointed out that there could soon be others. The MSHA is determined to ensure that protections for miners are put in place and that mining operators have a greater responsibility to monitor and correct their safety procedures, he said.

When a mine is added to the list of pattern violators, it immediately becomes subject to tight scrutiny. If any substantial breaches of health and safety regulations are still found in any of these three mines, the MSHA will take further action by ceasing operations and keeping workers out of the mine.