MSHA Chief Discusses Modernizing Data Collection in Testimony

Assistant Secretary David Zatezalo discussed MSHA's initiative to reform and modernize its data collection, saying too often in the past, "data was not synchronized or easily disseminated throughout the agency." He said modernization ideas include using more digital tools in the field and better data dissemination across the agency.

The U.S. Houston Education and the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing Feb. 6 to discuss the Mine Safety and Health Administration's 2018 priorities, hearing testimony from one witness: David Zatezalo, the assistant secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., who described mining as "not only essential for America’s homes and businesses; it is an essential industry for the economy. This is an industry that literally keeps the lights on, and it deserves our gratitude."

Byrne said more than 319,000 Americans were employed by the mining industry during 2017, "and we must ensure they have a safe and healthful workplace."

Zatezalo discussed the safety in the industry and the need to modernize MSHA's data collection. He also said, "There is a perception among the broader public that MSHA is an agency whose primary focus is coal. While coal is a significant component of MSHA's responsibilities, we need to reemphasize that our mission is much broader than just one commodity.

"In 2017, he said, "a total of 28 mining fatalities occurred. That is 28 too many. I strongly believe, as I know you agree, even one mining fatality is one too many. However, 2017 represented the second lowest number of deaths ever recorded and the third year in MSHA's history that there were fewer than 30 fatalities." He promised that the agency's inspectors and other personnel "will work even harder across both sectors to promote miner safety through vigorous but evenhanded enforcement, technological advancements, education and training, and compliance and technical assistance."

"Last year, [U.S. Labor] Secretary Acosta learned that approximately 15 percent of MSHA's inspectors and technical personnel did not meet MSHA’s medical standards, and that the percentage had been increasing over the past several years," he said. "Accordingly, Secretary Acosta directed MSHA to develop an effective, consistent, and equitable plan to remediate this issue. I am pleased to report that two months ahead of the department's February 1st goal, MSHA completed all necessary individualized assessments for each case of an employee who did not meet a medical standard—224 in total. As of today, all but 10 cases have been resolved."

He discussed MSHA's initiative to reform and modernize its data collection, saying too often in the past, "data was not synchronized or easily disseminated throughout the agency." He said modernization ideas include using more digital tools in the field and better data dissemination across the agency.

"I am pleased to report that we will be rolling out a modernized Inspection Application System in the field. This system will provide our inspectors with lightweight, ruggedized tablets and digital tools that will improve data accuracy and capture enhanced data as they record their findings. I expect the rollout to begin by mid-February and conclude within a few months," he said.

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