Judge Says Inspectors Must Have Full Access to North Dakota Mine

By Dave Kolpack | August 8, 2014

A North Dakota company must allow federal inspectors unfettered access to a sand and gravel mine that is the subject of workplace safety complaints, a federal judge ordered Aug. 6.

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in July against Jamestown-based Northern Excavating Co. and company owner Robert Lindberg, accusing the company of hindering inspection efforts. On two occasions, inspectors were turned away by company employees and another time the facility was locked, according to a spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

An order signed by U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson says the company is prohibited from “interfering with, hindering or delaying” authorized federal authorities from doing their work. The business manager of the company will remain inside the office or leave the premises during any inspections, the order says.

The company reserves their rights to “contest the citations already issued or additional citations issued in the future,” the judge says.

Maurice McCormick, a Fargo attorney representing Northern Excavating, and Jesse Lawder, spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, did return phone messages seeking comment.

Court documents show workers have complained to the Mine Safety and Health Administration about the lack of protective equipment and other possible violations. Lawder said earlier that the complaints “were not insignificant,” but could not be specific until inspectors are allowed into the mine.

The first incident was reported May 6 when an agency inspector was turned away at the site by a company employee shortly after an initial complaint was received, Lawder said. The agency does not need a warrant to do inspections.

Inspectors returned to the site a day later to serve the business with an order to halt operations at the mine “but everything was locked and no one was there,” Lawder said. The third visit was June 3, when an agency official was denied entry, court documents show.

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