Friday, October 06, 2006

MSHA Audit: Don't Have A Problem On A Weekend

An Department of Labor Inspector General audit of Mine Safety And Health Administration complaint process shows that MSHA is slow to investigate complaints about life-threatening conditions. And miners concerned about safety conditions may want to think twice about whether extra weekend or holiday pay is worth it.

Between Jan. 1, 2005, and March 30, 2006, the inspector general found, in 56 of the 410 hazardous condition complaints, it took at least two days before the district office was notified. The complaints could cover such unsafe conditions as significant levels of methane or unstable roof supports.

The majority of the delays occurred because the complaint was received on a weekend or holiday. But for 12 of the complaints, it took longer than three days -- and as many as 11 days -- as the mines continued operating.

The report also found inconsistency between MSHA regional offices. According to the auditors,
the nation's 11 regional coal districts were "neither consistent nor complete" in how they handled the most serious complaints. In at least one instance, similar methane levels were labeled an "imminent danger" in one mine, but not in another.
Part of the problem is that MSHA hires contractors to handle complaints, and according to the report, MSA
had neither provided effective training and operational guidance to, nor monitored the performance of, the contractor used to receive complaints filed with MSHA headquarters.
And one more issue of great concern to miners. Both the Mine Safety and Health Act and the Occupational Safety And Health Act give employees to opportunity to file confidential complaints to prevent retaliation by employers. At least in theory...
The inspector also found "several instances" in which information that could identify the miner reporting the hazard was inadvertently conveyed to the mine operator, which could discourage others from reporting.
Summary and Full Report can be found here.