AggBeat: The heat is on MSHA
For entry-level inspectors, the inspector’s office reviewed training records for FYs 2007 and 2008 because these years provided the most recently completed training information at the start of the audit.
For journeyman inspectors, the Office of the Inspector General says it reviewed training records for FYs 2006 and 2007 because this was the most recent two-year training cycle that had been completed when the audit began. Since the FY 2008-2009 training cycle was completed during the audit, the Office of the Inspector General notes that it performed additional work to examine this period for selected journeyman inspectors in the audit sample.
To assess inspectors’ views of MSHA-sponsored training, the inspector’s office says it conducted an e-mail survey of all 1,145 inspectors on board as of Sept. 2, 2009. The Office of the Inspector General summarized and analyzed the information contained in the 494 responses received, a 43-percent response rate to the survey.
This assessment found that during FYs 2007-2008, MSHA increased the total number of inspectors by 26 percent and provided training for more than 350 entry-level inspectors. However, MSHA did not ensure that its journeyman inspectors received required periodic retraining, according to the audit.
Fifty-six percent of the 102 journeyman inspectors sampled had not completed MSHA’s required periodic retraining during the FY 2006-2007 training cycle; three of these journeyman inspectors had not received retraining since the inception of MSHA’s training policy in 1998.
How could this happen? In its audit, the Office of the Inspector General cites the following underlying causes:
• MSHA lacked controls, at both the headquarters and district levels, to track and ensure completion of required periodic retraining by journeyman inspectors; and
• There were no consequences for not attending retraining courses.
As a result, MSHA inspectors may not possess the up-to-date knowledge of health and safety standards or mining technology needed to perform their inspection duties, the Office of the Inspector General audit noted in its report. In fact, 27 percent of the 264 journeyman inspectors who responded to the survey said they believed that MSHA did not provide them with the technical training they needed to effectively perform their duties.
More specifically, the respondents stated that MSHA training did not provide them with sufficient knowledge of mining laws and regulations (11 percent), MSHA policies (14 percent), MSHA procedures (14 percent), and current mining technology (23 percent). Lack of training increases the possibility that hazardous conditions may not be identified and corrected during inspections, which, in turn, could increase the risk of accidents, injuries, fatalities, and adverse health conditions for miners, the Office of the Inspector points out in its audit report.
In responding to the Office of the Inspector General’s draft report, Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main said MSHA has long recognized the importance of training and has a long history of providing continual learning opportunities for its employees, the National Stone Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) notes in its Washington Watch report.
In the NSSGA report about the audit, Main acknowledged that MSHA’s internal controls for ensuring inspectors received training could be improved. He agreed to revise existing polices and procedures, including developing clear guidelines of accountability for completing required training, and reemphasizing MSHA’s commitment to maintain a well-trained workforce, according to the audit findings.
What should MSHA do?
During the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General’s audit of the Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors, recommendations were developed.
In the audit report to MSHA, Journeyman Mine Inspectors Do Not Receive Required Periodic Retraining, Elliott P. Lewis, assistant inspector general for audit with the U.S. DOL’s Office of the Inspector General, gave these recommendations to MSHA’s assistant secretary regarding training of inspectors:
• Implement procedures and controls to hold supervisors accountable (e.g., policies, performance standards, etc.) for assuring that all journeyman inspectors complete required periodic retraining;