GAO Says MSHA Needs to Monitor Training Better

A report posted yesterday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says MSHA needs to do a better job of monitoring the emergency training that underground coal mine operators provide to their miners. Training is mandated for new miners, annual training is required for all miners, and resue team members must receive training, but MSHA lacks continuing education requirements for instructors once they are approved, and it has inconsistent instructor approval standards, GAO said.

The report, "Better Oversight and Coordination by MSHA and Other Federal Agencies Could Improve Safety for Underground Coal Miners," GAO-07-622, is available online at www.gao.gov/new.items/d07622.pdf. It says coordination between MSHA and NIOSH is mainly informal and inconsistent, even though both are responsible for getting new technology into the mines. The two agencies don't involve each other in their strategic planning or research planning, the report says. GAO asked the heads of their parent agencies, the secretaries of Labor and Health and Human Services, to direct that MSHA and NIOSH work together and establish a formal memorandum of understanding to guide their coordination.

The report also says the higher penalties put in place by MSHA in accordance with the MINER Act will increase total penalty assessments by an estimated 234 percent. Underground coal mine operators contested few penalties assessed by MSHA from 1996 to 2006, yet almost half of all penalties were reduced through the appeals process -- on average, they were reduced by about half.

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