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SLC 2015: When MSHA Pays a Visit, Don't Hide Under a Rock

Nov. 2, 2015
MSHA has different rules than OSHA; being open and documenting everything during a visit from an inspector may save you headaches later. 

The Mining Safety and Health Administration is often called the sister agency of OSHA, but it’s really more like an older brother with bigger muscles, a panel of mining experts told operations managers and safety leaders assembled at the Safety Leadership Conference in South Carolina last week.

MSHA inspectors visit mining sites more frequently than OSHA inspectors—at least twice a year, and in many cases more than twice a year, said Matthew Korn, an attorney for Fisher & Phillips. Unlike their OSHA counterparts, MSHA inspectors don’t need a warrant to inspect a site, and in order to cite you, they don’t need to prove you knew about a violation or should have known.

“All they have to know is the violation exists, and they can write it up,” said Korn. “With OSHA, you have some time [to fix the violation]. With MSHA, you either fix it immediately or you’re out of service.” A violation becomes more serious if MSHA discovers you were aware of it, he added.

Joining Korn were Bryan Moore, safety and health manager for Vulcan Materials company based in Charlotte, N.C., and a former state mining inspector and Bob Gibson, safety director for Sunbelt Rentals, a company responsible for the scaffolding at mines.

The panelists shared these best practices for being fully prepared for an MSHA inspection:

Keep a three-ring binder handy with all documentation and reports related to the site and activity, “so you’re not having to fumble around” when the inspector arrives, said Gibson.

Partner with the mine operator on how to handle an investigation. “They know more about what their facility’s doing, and they can give you some guidance,” said Gibson.

Train onsite supervisors and hourly personnel on what to do when an MSHA inspector shows up at the site. “We try to be open,” said Moore. “If they show up … we say, ‘What do you want to see?’” The employee should walk with the inspector, write notes and take pictures from multiple angles, and self-inspect with a critical eye, said Moore. Make sure employees know it’s OK to ask for help from mine site management. And instruct them not to throw anything away on the site, “even if the inspectors encourage them to do so to get rid of the problem.”

Tell employees they don’t have to talk to MSHA inspectors if the inspectors show up at their house. “You can, but you don’t have to,” said Moore. Non-supervisory employees can also have a company representative present if they’re uncomfortable speaking to MSHA alone.

Go up the chain of command if necessary. “I call the [MSHA] district manager a lot—and he calls me back,” said Moore. But don’t contest a citation if you’re clearly wrong, and don’t present a position not based in fact.

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