MSHA pre-assessment conference procedures begin, but spark concerns about program execution

Tina Grady Barbaccia

January 5, 2012

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is planning, this month, to begin implementation of pre-assessment conferencing procedures “to help reduce any backlog of future violations” before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The number of citations in backlog reached a high of 89,000 and is now reported to be down to 69,000, according to a report from the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA).

Under the procedures in most MSHA districts, a mine operator and miners’ representative may request a conference regarding a contested citation or order — only after MSHA proposes a penalty assessment — and any settlements require approval by the commission. The new procedures are based on the results of a pilot program launched by MSHA Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Main in August 2010 that evaluated the effect of the pre-assessment conference on contested citations. The evaluation incorporated input from industry stakeholders, including mine operators and miners’ representatives, according to MSHA.

NSSGA says it believes that to be effective, “conferencing meetings need to be conducted in a manner independent of the district manager so that operators can have confidence that their arguments receive a full and fair hearing.”

The association does have concerns about the agency’s having predicated the program’s execution on available resources. In the last fiscal year, the agency was appropriated more than $357 million, NSSGA says. The association also notes that the aggregates industry was assessed $20.4 million for payment to U.S. government general revenue.

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