"Report Details MSHA Lapses Prior To Disaster"

"CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal mine safety regulators quietly warned lawmakers just two weeks before the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster about serious enforcement lapses, including incomplete inspections and inadequate enforcement actions, according to a previously unpublished report to Congress.

On March 25, 2010, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration submitted a mandated report to the Senate Appropriations Committee on the activities of MSHA's internal Office of Accountability.

Over the previous two years, according to the report, MSHA auditors from the agency's accountability office found:

-- Inspectors in 20 of 25 field offices reviewed did not properly evaluate the gravity and negligence of mine operator safety and health violations.

-- Supervisors in 21 of those 25 field offices did not perform in-depth reviews to ensure that inspectors took appropriate enforcement actions in accordance with MSHA policies.

-- MSHA officials in 15 of the 25 field offices audited did not adequately document inspections so that any enforcement actions taken would stand up in court.

-- Inspectors in four of the field offices did not complete mandatory spot inspections for mines that generated large amounts of explosive methane gas.

-- At an unspecified number of field offices, there was a 'lack of comprehensive inspections of all areas of the mining operation' and inappropriate 'levels of enforcement issuances.' "

Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette March 2, 2011.

Friday, March 4, 2011