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Manchin to Acosta: Are MSHA inspectors being told not to carry their credentials?

Joe Manchin
Photo: Joe Manchin

Washington – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is asking Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta to address concerns regarding the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s temporary Compliance Assistance Program aimed at preventing injuries and deaths among less-experienced miners.

In a letter dated Sept. 7, Manchin said he has received reports that MSHA inspectors are being instructed to leave their Authorized Representative Status credentials at their desks. The credentials allow inspectors to issue violations or give orders to remove miners if unsafe conditions are found.

Manchin also is concerned that MSHA reportedly has advised miners that they no longer are allowed to select a Miners’ Representative with “walk-around rights” to take part in the program unless the mine operator allows the participation. He described the news as “particularly alarming.”

“As provided under Section 103(f) of the (Federal Mine Safety and Health) Act, a Miners’ Representatives [sic] participates in and assists MSHA inspectors in mine inspections and accident investigations,” the letter states. “The Miners’ Representatives’ first-hand knowledge of the mines serves as a valuable asset during such inspections, investigations and any lawful CAP that MSHA could implement.”

Manchin is requesting that Acosta address the detailed goals of the CAP, which is slated to end Sept. 30; clarify any verbal or written directives to miners, mine operators or MSHA inspectors; and provide MSHA’s reason for telling inspectors not to bring ARS credentials to a mine site. The senator also wants information on an inspectors’ instructions should he or she find a “Significant and Substantial” violation or imminent danger during a compliance visit, as well as any MSHA data on injury rates for experienced versus inexperienced miners from October 2015 to March 2017.

“I believe that, while the Compliance Assistance Program is an effort to improve miners’ safety, MSHA inspections, investigations and standards, the exercise in itself is an inspection, and, therefore, removing AR credentials or disallowing the presence of a Miners’ Representative undermines the transparent nature of MSHA’s operations for the ultimate safety of the worker – an original goal of Congress when it passed the Act,” the letter states.

When announcing its compliance assistance initiative in June, MSHA stated that workers who had one year of experience or less inside a mine incurred 903 injuries from October 2015 through this past March. That’s more than double the 418 injuries suffered by miners who had one to two years of experience. Further, seven of this year’s first eight coal mining fatalities were workers who had one year of experience or less in a mine, MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations Patricia Silvey said in a June 6 press release.

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