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MSHA needs to improve consistency in recording and addressing complaints, OIG audit says

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Photo: Waldemarus/iStockphoto

Washington – The Mine Safety and Health Administration needs a more consistent approach to logging, assessing and responding to complaints of hazardous mine conditions, according to the results of a recent audit conducted by the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

The audit, released Sept. 30, also stated that MSHA does not treat each complaint similarly because each district has its own interpretation of the agency’s Hazard Complaint Procedures Handbook. Other findings showed that districts use different criteria for when to inform mine operators of imminent hazards, and two of the six districts inspected by DOL OIG had not established timeliness goals for notifying mine operators of imminent hazards.

DOL OIG issued several recommendations for MSHA, including:

  • Implement consistent guidelines for handling complaints of hazardous mine conditions.
  • Establish standard completion goals for post-complaint inspections.
  • Offer refresher training to inspection personnel in each district to ensure consistency.
  • Improve call center scripts and training so customer service representatives record sufficient complaint information.
  • Establish a better system for MSHA staff to receive and investigate new complaints.

In response to the audit, MSHA administrator Joseph A. Main agreed with some – but not all – of the recommendations.

He took exception to recommendations for standard completion goals, claiming the agency initiated investigations for “all 103(g) imminent danger complaints within one day of receipt so far in fiscal year 2016.”

Main agreed with the recommendation to improve call center scripts, but said the final recommendation was unnecessary because improving the quality of information received through the call center would improve the next step of relaying that information to enforcement staff.

OIG conducted the audit after mine hazards contributed to 151 deaths and more than 30,000 injuries from January 2012 to December 2015. An audit that took place in 2006 found that MSHA had not evaluated or inspected a significant number of hazardous condition complaints in a timely manner.

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