February 14, 2018
On February 6, 2018, David G. Zatezalo, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), testified before Congress’ House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections during a session entitled “Reviewing the Policies and Priorities of the Mine Safety and Health Administration,” Ogletree Deakins reports. The hearing was held to review MSHA‘s work and direction.
According to the news agency, Zatezalo began by praising collaboration between the agency and the regulated community, and by encouraging the subcommittee to see safety as he does: as a nonpartisan issue. He provided a review of MSHA statistics from 2017, including 28 fatalities, and reported that the agency had issued 105,000 citation/orders in 42,219 inspections.
Zatezalo also told the committee that the agency plans to focus on improving safety in the area of powered haulage, which was the cause of 43 percent of the fatalities in 2017, and indicated that the agency would focus on ensuring that MSHA inspectors and technical personnel are medically fit for duty. He stressed his desire to offer increased compliance assistance to small mines, including having inspectors spend additional time with new miners with less than one year of experience.
The news agency reported that Zatezalo plans to roll out technological advancements to make inspectors more efficient by issuing “rugged tablets” to allow real-time access to mine data, including mine-specific plans, mine statistics, and other information, which will allow inspectors to communicate findings more quickly.
The subcommittee members expressed concerns regarding enforcement inconsistency throughout districts, agency receptiveness to new technology, agency efforts to reduce black lung disease, and the status of pattern-of-violations (POV) rule enforcement. According to the news agency Zatezalo was noncommittal on a number of those issues, as he says he is still learning the agency, but he insisted that the 2014 respirable dust standard would not be abandoned or revised and stated that he believed the POV enforcement rule had acted as a deterrent. He said that enforcement consistency can be achieved through improved communication and that it was “important that there is one MSHA. . . not 15.”