OIG: MSHA's pattern of violations program may lead to safety risks

Guidelines the Mine Safety and Health Administration used to identify mines with poor safety records were inappropriate and exempted some mines with a number of significant violations from increased scrutiny, according to an interim report (.pdf file) from the Office of Inspector General.

OIG is investigating MSHA's pattern of violations authority, which the agency uses to force mines with recurrent significant and substantial violations into compliance. With a POV designation, mines face stiffer penalties and must develop a federally approved plan to reduce future violations.

MSHA officials currently are re-evaluating the method in light of revelations that West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine-South should have been placed on POV status prior to its April explosion. Officials stressed a computer glitch that caused the mine's POV exemption had no impact on the tragedy that killed 29 workers.

OIG also recommended MSHA immediately evaluate 10 mines removed from POV status between 2007 and 2009 because of inappropriate screening criteria.

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