Hazard Complaint Investigations
Lay-offs and reduced work schedules tend to spawn hazard complaints. Know how to the complaint and investigation.
by John Austin and Brian Hendrix
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is likely to receive and investigate more hazard complaints this year than in the recent past. Times are tough. Lay-offs and reduced work schedules tend to spawn hazard complaints, meaning mine operators should be prepared to deal with complaints and complaint investigations. The first steps are to understand a mine operator’s rights during a complaint investigation and to understand MSHA’s hazard complaint investigation policy and procedures.
Section 103(g) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) defines a hazard complaint as a complaint to MSHA by a miner or a miner’s representative regarding hazardous conditions or practices, including imminent dangers. MSHA’s Hazard Complaint Procedures Handbook lists two types of complaints: a Section 103(g) Complaint and All Other Complaints.
A section 103(g) complaint is one made solely by a miner or a representative of a miner that is:
- a handwritten and signed note or letter;
- handwritten and signed facsimile;
- an e-mail containing a signature, or lacking a signature is identifiable as being from a miner or representative and includes the complainant’s name and valid e-mail address; or,
- Code-A-Phone messages that can be identified as being made by a miner or miner representative.
Complaints that do not meet these specific requirements are considered other complaints and are described as:
- a signed or unsigned letter, note, or facsimile filed by someone other than a miner or miner representative and not originating from a miner;
- any unsigned e-mail from an invalid e-mail address;
- an anonymous Code-A-Phone message that cannot be traced back to a miner or miner representative; or,
- a verbal communication made by anyone.
MSHA is required by law to protect the identity of complainants. Therefore, before disclosing or providing copies of the complaint, MSHA removes information that would identify the complainant, such as name, address, mine location, equipment used, work area, or any other specific references that may reveal the complainant’s identity. MSHA may rewrite the entire complaint in order to maintain confidentiality.
Once MSHA receives a hazard complaint, it must determine whether the complaint alleges a hazardous condition, an imminent danger, or a violation of a standard or the Mine Act. If MSHA believes that a complaint alleges facts that could constitute an imminent danger, MSHA should immediately investigate. If MSHA is unable to make an immediate, unannounced inspection, it will send a notice to the mine operator directing the operator to investigate the allegation.
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