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OIG to MSHA: Improve oversight of coal mine emergency response plans

coal mine
Photo: meliusphotography/iStockphoto

Washington – The Mine Safety and Health Administration needs to provide better oversight of coal mine operators’ emergency response plans, according to a recent audit conducted by the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

Underground coal mine operators are required to develop ERPs as part of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act, which was signed into law in 2006 following the deaths of 19 miners at the Sago, Aracoma and Darby mines.

The audit, released March 31, sampled 51 ERPs and found that MSHA had not standardized its ERP guidance processes, nor offered sufficient training or management oversight. Other findings showed that 177 listed emergency contact phone numbers were either disconnected or belonged to another organization, and no one answered repeated calls to an additional 83 numbers. At 11 mines, MSHA was unable to show it had completed required ERP reviews. Other guidance contained gaps related to when new mines were required to submit ERPs and whether certain information could be omitted.

DOL OIG issued nine recommendations for MSHA, including:

  • Maintain an ERP review checklist on MSHA’s website that is updated when requirements change.
  • Standardize the ERP review and approval processes and tools across MSHA districts.
  • Complete periodic internal reviews to verify the accuracy and use of the tracking system.
  • Complete periodic internal reviews to verify the accuracy and completeness of inspection reports and first-line supervisor certifications, and ensure MSHA is meeting the requirement in the MINER Act to review ERPs every six months.

MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Patricia Silvey agreed with some – but not all – of the recommendations in a written response.

“MSHA does not believe that ERPs should be uniform among mines,” Silvey wrote. “MSHA district managers should be allowed to approve ERPs based on specific mining conditions and mining systems at the mine. MSHA believes that the agency’s approval procedures provide this flexibility at no increased risk to miners.

“The OIG found that 100 percent of the ERPs it examined were out of compliance because the plans failed to include a provision for translation services. However, there has never been a requirement that ERPs contain provisions for translation services.”

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