AggBeat: The heat is on MSHA


June 1, 2010

An audit by the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General reveals that 56 percent of ‘experienced’ journeymen MSHA inspectors aren’t trained properly.

By Tina Grady Barbaccia, News and Digital Editor

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has received harsh criticism from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after the agency conducted a performance audit of MSHA’s Training Program for both entry-level and journeyman mine inspectors and found that 56 percent of journeyman inspectors were not properly trained.

The report, released the week of March 29, shows that after a 26-percent increase in the number of inspectors hired by the agency, more than a quarter of inspectors were not receiving the training needed to properly enforce safety and health standards. 

The audit reveals that MSHA even authorized one person to perform inspection duties without having been required to complete the minimum, entry-level training modules. MSHA had not defined circumstances that permitted a waiver of the training requirements nor had it documented the rationale for waiving the training requirement in this instance, according to the Office of the Inspector General.

What’s more, the MSHA Academy — where inspectors are supposed to receive their training — lacked timely and adequate support documentation for some training, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) said in its Washington Watch e-newsletter.

MSHA’s system for recording training activity lacked sufficient controls to ensure that adequate documentation was maintained to support training completion, according to the audit. Since completion of a minimum level of training is part of MSHA’s requirement to become an inspector, incomplete training records create a risk that an individual could be designated as an inspector without having completed sufficient training.

For the record

At the end of fiscal year (FY) 2008, MSHA employed 1,037 inspectors consisting of 358 entry-level 2 inspectors (282 in coal and 76 in metal/non-metal) and 679 journeymen.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) requires the Secretary of Labor to develop and maintain adequate programs for the training and continuing education of persons, particularly inspectors, to carry out its provisions.

MSHA divides mine enforcement into two program offices — Coal Mine Safety and Health (Coal) or Metal and Non-metal Mine Safety and Health (Metal/Non-metal). Inspectors receive training based on the specific technical needs associated with examining mines within their assigned program area. Training for entry-level coal and metal/non-metal inspectors consists of six modules of classroom instruction totaling 21 and 23 weeks, respectively, at MSHA’s National Mine Health and Safety Academy (Academy).

Intermingled with the classroom sessions, entry-level inspectors must complete specific online training components and on-the-job (OJT) sessions while in the field, according to the Office of the Inspector General. The training regimen is typically completed during a 12- to 16-month period. Subsequent to this initial training, MSHA policy requires that journeyman inspectors, in both coal and metal/nonmetal, receive one week of specified retraining each year, or two weeks every other year.

To determine whether the training was effective and sufficient, the Office of the Inspector General says it conducted an audit of MSHA‘s Inspector Training Program to answer the question: Do MSHA inspectors receive training to effectively execute their regulatory responsibilities?

An audit for answers

The audit examined whether (a) entry-level inspectors in FYs 2007 and 2008 completed MSHA’s designated training curriculum and (b) journeymen inspectors completed MSHA’s designated retraining course(s) within the most recent two-year training cycle (FYs 2006-2007), according to the Office of the Inspector General.

The audit did not evaluate the appropriateness of the curriculum’s technical content or the quality of the instruction or attempt to correlate inspector training to the rate of accidents, injuries, or fatalities in mines.

To accomplish this objective, the inspector’s office says it obtained an understanding of the MSHA Training program for both entry-level and journeyman inspectors through interviews with coal, metal/non-metal, and MSHA Academy officials. It evaluated the extent to which inspectors had completed the training prescribed by MSHA and offered by the academy through an examination of training transcripts and supporting documentation for a sample of inspectors onboard as of Sept. 30, 2008.

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;

• Revise MSHA’s training policy to suspend an individual’s inspection activities if designated retraining is not completed as required;

• Develop and implement written policies and procedures to justify and document cases in which completion of minimum training requirements are waived for an inspector;

• Revise automated training records to include the date that OJT modules are completed; and

• Implement controls to assure that training records are fully supported to validate training as it is completed.

NSSGA notes that during meetings between CEOs of the association’s member companies and MSHA leaders appointed by President Obama, it has forcefully advocated that training be improved resulting in more consistent and risk-based enforcement. 

MSHA’s Main has indicated that improved training is a high priority. The NSSGA Safety and Health Committee also is working to identify areas of ambiguity in current law, regulation, or guidance.

The audit:

Objective and findings

Objective: Do MSHA inspectors receive training to effectively execute their regulatory responsibilities?

• Finding 1: Fifty-six percent of MSHA journeyman inspectors sampled had not received required periodic retraining.

• Finding 2: One individual was authorized to perform inspection duties without completing the minimum training requirements.

• Finding 3: The MSHA Academy lacked timely and adequate support documentation for some completed training.

Jones Act creates half-million jobs

Nearly half a million jobs — 499,676 to be exact — enrich the American economy because the Jones Act requires cargo moving between U.S. ports be carried in vessels that are owned and built in the United States and have a U.S. crew, according to the Great Lakes Carriers Association (GLCA).

This, and other economic benefits of the law, is highlighted in the just-released Annual Report of Maritime Cabotage Task Force (MCTF), the largest coalition ever to promote domestic waterborne commerce. Drawing from a report commissioned by the Transportation Institute and prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Annual Report further stresses that the Jones Act generates more than $100 billion in total economic output, $11 billion in taxes, $29 billion in annual wages, and adds $46 billion per year to the value of U.S. economic output.

MCTF notes that governments around the world have tried to stimulate their economies with legislative efforts. Fortunately, re-growth in domestic waterborne commerce will create jobs for Americans because the Jones Act requires that cargo moving between U.S. ports be carried in vessels that are U.S.-owned, U.S.-built, and U.S.-crewed, states MCTF in its letter from its board. “Our 2009 Annual Report focuses on the employment that Jones Act shipping creates and sustains … [and] what our industry means to America’s economic well being, both now, and in the future,” the letter notes.

Individual sections in the Annual Report highlight the importance of Jones Act shipping in the non-contiguous trades, on the Great Lakes, and on the inland rivers. Other pages stress the importance of the shipbuilding industry, preparing the next generation of American mariners, and the potential for new activities in support of offshore energy development.

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