Main says enhanced enforcement strategies are working

By |  June 18, 2012

Despite a number of challenges confronting the mining industry over the past two and a half years, MSHA Assistant Secretary Joseph Main says the actions being taken by the agency and many in the industry are moving mine safety and health in the right direction.

Main made that remark, among others, at a one-day seminar last week sponsored by Penn State University’s miner training program near Pittsburgh.

“Following the April 2010 explosion of the Upper Big Branch Mine, one of my most significant challenges was keeping MSHA focused on our overall mission and agenda to advance mine safety,” Main says. “That tragedy clearly identified that more needed to be done to provide miners with a voice in the workplace, and that MSHA needed to more aggressively use its tools under the Mine Act to enforce the law. We began taking actions immediately after the disaster, and we are still continuing to implement a number of initiatives to make mines safer.”

Three months ago, the agency released the results of its internal review into actions leading up to and immediately following the Upper Big Branch explosion, including recommendations for improving MSHA’s effectiveness.

To that end, the agency has undertaken a comprehensive review of its policy directive system, as well as a complete overhaul of its coal mine inspectors’ handbook to make it clear and concise. MSHA also is increasing staff training and addressing shortcomings repeatedly identified in several past agency internal reviews.

The enhanced enforcement strategies MSHA is implementing are working, according to Main. During the more than two-year-old impact inspection program, which targets mines with chronic compliance issues, MSHA has conducted 443 inspections, resulting in 7,948 citations, 785 orders and 29 safeguards.

“Overall compliance is improving at these mines,” Main says. “Violations per inspection hour are down 13 percent after mines received an initial impact inspection. The significant and substantial (S&S) violation rate is down 21 percent and 104(d) withdrawal orders are down 43 percent. The total lost-time injury rate at these mines is down 13 percent.”

Main also noted that the agency’s pattern of violations initiative is netting positive results. In a recent review of enforcement data on the 14 mines that received initial potential POV notices in 2010, the total violation rate at the mines is down 25 percent, the total S&S violation rate is down 44 percent and the rate of 104(d) withdrawal orders is down 66 percent. The lost-time injury rate at these mines has dropped 43 percent.

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