Chao Orders Unprecedented Review of Crandall Canyon Incident

In an unprecedented move by the Labor Department, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced that an independent review will evaluate MSHA's handling of the Crandall Canyon mine incident. The review will include actions taken before the Aug. 6 accident and the ensuing rescue operations.

The announcement was made hours after MSHA said it was appointing its own team to investigate the disaster at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. The team will be lead by Richard Gates, a MSHA district manager in Birmingham, Ala., who also led MSHA's investigation into the Sago Mine disaster last year.

“After discussions with [the] administrator for [MSHA] Richard Stickler, I am taking the unprecedented step of appointing independent outside experts to evaluate MSHA’s actions regarding the tragedy at the Crandall Canyon Mine on August 6 and the subsequent rescue efforts,” Chao said. “The Crandall Canyon miners, the rescuers who were injured and perished in trying to save others and the loved ones who have suffered so much in this tragedy continue to be foremost in our thoughts.”

Lead Investigators Former MSHA Employees

Two individuals chosen by Chao are mine safety experts who had retired from MSHA in recent years. Jason Pavlovich, of Gray, Ky., and Earnest Teaster Jr. of King George, Va., will be tasked to lead an independent review consisting of a thorough examination of written mine plans, inspection records and other documents relevant to the Crandall Canyon Mine, as well as interviews of MSHA employees with personal knowledge of MSHA’s inspection responsibilities and enforcement procedures at the mine.

Pavolich is a 30-year MSHA veteran who headed three post-incident internal reviews of the agency's performance and was a team member on another internal review. After retiring from MSHA, he continued to be active in mine safety activities and aided former MSHA Administrator Davitt McAteer during his review of the Sago Mine disaster.

Teaster has held a variety roles while at MSHA throughout his 32-year old career at MSHA. His duties ranged from mine inspector to managerial and supervisory roles. Before retiring from MSHA, he also headed three post-accident internal reviews.

This review will compare MSHA’s actions at the Crandall Canyon Mine with the requirements of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, as amended by the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, and MSHA policies and procedures. The findings of the independent review could result in recommendations to improve MSHA’s enforcement program and oversight of rescue and recovery programs in the aftermath of mine incidents.

MSHA's formal report will summarize the findings and conclusions of the investigative team, identifying root causes of the incident and how it unfolded. Any contributing violations of federal mine safety standards that existed will be cited at the conclusion of the investigation.

UMWA: Investigation Would Not Be Valid

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Worker's Union of America (UMWA), said Chao's announcement “does not come close to constituting the kind of independent investigation into the Crandall Canyon disaster that the UMWA has called for and the American public deserves.”

According to Roberts, it would be a mistake to have an agency investigate itself, especially if the investigation will be done by former MSHA employees.

“A truly independent investigation would be done by people who are from outside the agency with no ties to MSHA or its employees,” he said. “And a truly independent investigation would also focus on the actions and responsibilities of the mine operator in this disaster, which the DOL review apparently will not.”

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