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DOL OIG finds ‘significant weaknesses’ in MSHA’s violations process

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Washington — The Mine Safety and Health Administration “did not properly manage the process it used to issue, terminate, modify and vacate violations,” concludes a Department of Labor Office of Inspector General audit report released March 31.

“Various areas of MSHA’s violations process had significant weaknesses, jeopardizing MSHA’s mission to maintain miner safety,” the report states.

DOL OIG reviewed more than 700,000 violations issued from January 2013 through September 2019. The report notes that MSHA did not “timely verify that operators corrected hazards until after the required due date.”

DOL OIG adds that MSHA issued “thousands of violations” that didn’t comply with its handbook and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The report includes 10 recommendations.

MSHA questioned DOL OIG’s understanding of operators’ hazard abatement responsibilities in a prepublication response dated March 30. Acting MSHA administrator Jeannette Galanis writes that the report “wrongly concluded that ‘extended’ due dates means that miners are exposed to hazards.”

 

Galanis continues: “Once a hazard has been identified, it is the operator’s responsibility to abate the hazard, and if this cannot be done immediately, the operator will danger off the hazardous areas or remove equipment from use, etc., to assure miners are not exposed to the hazard.”

As an example, she said that an area with an inadequate roof may take time to abate. That may require multiple extensions for mine conditions, materials needed and delivery of materials. MSHA inspectors then would have to return to the mine and terminate the citation.

Galanis also points out the scope of the audit covers violations issued across two White House administrations and that the report was issued during a third administration. She contends that multiple changes implemented at MSHA and DOL aren’t addressed in the report. Those include a DOL initiative on shared services, the modernization of MSHA systems, and “numerous updates to policies and procedures.”

She adds, “Nonetheless, MSHA acknowledges there are always opportunities for improvement.”

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