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Underreporting of injuries among greatest management challenges for OSHA, MSHA: report

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Photo: Department of Labor Office of Inspector General

Washington — Incomplete initiatives aimed at improving employer reporting of injuries are among the top management and performance challenges facing OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to a Department of Labor Office of Inspector General report released in November.

“Without reliable data regarding workplace injuries, OSHA and MSHA lack the information needed to effectively focus inspection and compliance efforts on the most hazardous workplaces,” OIG states, adding that OSHA reports it has made progress on this matter by encouraging employers to comply with reporting requirements through a combination of enforcement, outreach and compliance assistance efforts.

Another challenge for OSHA, highlighted in the report, is ensuring construction hazards are abated – an issue OIG also mentioned in its semiannual report to Congress on May 29. The new report states that the agency should enhance staff training on verifying abatements.

“The agency closed many citations for safety violations because the construction project ended, not because employers corrected the cited hazards,” the report states. “As a result, OSHA received no assurances employers would use improved safety and health practices at subsequent construction sites.”

A major challenge for MSHA, the report states, is determining why cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – also known as black lung – are at a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

OIG’s suggestions to MSHA to ensure mine operators are complying with the respirable coal dust rule are to:

  • Review the quality of coal mine dust controls in mine ventilation and dust control plans.
  • Analyze sampling data quarterly.
  • Monitor mine operators’ sampling equipment.
  • Re-evaluate the coal dust rule in light of new information.
  • Increase testing and enforcement for other airborne contaminants.

In terms of progress made, MSHA stated that it has increased sampling for silica, quartz and diesel particulate emissions. It also has ordered more sampling devices for inspectors and testing equipment for its laboratories.

Finally, the report asserts that MSHA needs to address the “emerging challenge” of powered haulage incidents, which played a role in half of the 28 mining fatalities in 2017. OIG recommends enhanced training, conducting compliance and technical assistance visits, and increasing and sharing its knowledge of available technology.

MSHA reported that it is working with the mining industry on collision warning/proximity detection systems, which can help stop a machine or send a warning signal when a person or object is in its path.

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