MSHA Creates Office of Accountability to Police Its Own Enforcement

MSHA announced "a new era of accountability" June 28 as it released results of its internal reviews into last year's disasters at the Sago, Aracoma, and Darby mines. The reviews yielded 153 recommendations that will improve the agency's ability to administer the Mine Act and enforce compliance with its standards. Besides the corrective action plans in the three reviews, the agency announced it has created an Office of Accountability to increase oversight and examination of MSHA's enforcement programs.

"MSHA's internal review teams identified a number of deficiencies in our enforcement programs, which I found deeply disturbing," said Richard E. Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "The creation of the Office of Accountability within the Office of the Assistant Secretary will add enhanced oversight, at the highest level in the agency, to ensure that we are doing our utmost to enforce safety and health laws in our nation's mines."

The Aracoma internal review team decided most of the contributory violations were obvious and should have been identified by MSHA inspectors prior to the fire that killed two miners. The agency said it has referred its findings at the mine to the Labor Department's Office of Inspector General "for further investigation of employee misconduct." The Sago internal review found district personnel dealt with compliance issues by increasing their enforcement before the explosion. "However, failure by personnel to follow inspection procedures, coupled with inadequate managerial oversight, resulted in a number of enforcement deficiencies. Among the areas cited as needing improvement was the district's mine emergency response capabilities," MSHA said. The Darby internal review found district personnel did not effectively utilize the mine operator's history of repeat violations to increase enforcement efforts.

The Office of Accountability will be run by a director who will report to MSHA's assistant secretary. Two field compliance specialists will be assigned to it, and additional field personnel will be called on to provide expertise when needed.

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