NMA: Time to Re-evaluate Mine Safety, Health Programs

The National Mining Association told a Congressional committee that current regulatory and enforcement programs need to be re-evaluated in order to continue to improve mine safety and health.

The combined efforts of miners, mine operators and regulators have all contributed to decreased injuries and fatalities, the National Mining Association (NMA) told a House Oversight Hearing on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 last week.

But continued improvement in mine safety and health "will largely depend on maintaining vigilance against the causes of major accidents, while focusing more intently on the causes of individual fatalities and injuries and the potential health consequences of workplace exposures," said Bruce Watzman, NMA vice president, safety and health.

To bring about this balance, he said, "it is time to re-evaluate the current regulatory and enforcement programs. The resources of both government and industry must be redirected toward the prevention of accidents, injuries and illnesses and away from those policies that inevitably lead to confrontation. Decisions must be based upon sound science and recognition of the industry''s commitment to further improving miner safety and health."

Among the "fundamental reforms" that should be implemented, Watzman said, are:

  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) must base resource allocation decisions on documented need, rather than mere strict conformity with the directives contained in the Mine Act.
  • Inspections "must be more focused and the quality of inspections must be enhanced through better inspector training and education.
  • Rulemaking and policy decisions must be achievable, authorized by and in compliance with the law and "developed on the basis of sound science and furthering miner safety and health, rather than ease of enforcement.
  • Violations and their attendant sanctions "must be distinguished according to degree of seriousness and culpability involved."

"A more cooperative and constructive climate" must be fostered between MSHA and its various constituencies.

"Continuing to mandate a minimum number of rigid inspections, with no consideration of performance, will not help bring the incidence rate below the current static plateau," Watzman said in his testimony.

"Either MSHA''s inspection policy, or the Mine Act itself, must be revised to recognize that operations with established rigorous and effective safety and health programs need not be subjected to the same degree of inspection oversight as those with inadequate programs."

Watzman concluded by stating that while the industry has made dramatic improvements, MSHA''s procedures and inspection practices have not maintained pace.

"Outdated practices that hinder safety and health, inappropriate resource allocation and the continued reliance on outdated procedures threaten the safety and health achievements that have been attained," said Watzman.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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