The Office of Inspector General (IG) found serious problems with how the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) identifies the nation’s most dangerous mines for tighter scrutiny. In an initial Alert Memo to Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, Elliot Lewis, assistant inspector general for audit, informed MSHA past implementation of its Pattern of Violations (POV) authority requires immediate corrective action.

The memo said that, in March 2009, when the Coal Mine Safety and Health Administrator (CMS&H) notified his district managers of mines meeting the POV screening criteria, including scores for each mine, he directed them to select no more than one mine on the initial screening list per field office and a maximum of three mines per district. “We were told this guidance was necessary to address resource limitations,” Lewis said. “However, this instruction set a limit that was inappropriate for this enforcement program.” MSHA’s initial screening process allowed program administrators to remove mines from the original list based on a written justification from the district manager.

“Our preliminary review of information provided by MSHA shows MSHA performed five POV analyses between 2007 and 2009,” Lewis said. “Those analyses identified 89 mines for potential POV status.

For a variety of reasons (not yet validated through audit procedures), MSHA officials removed 21 of these mines from the initial screening lists.” Mines removed did not receive letters notifying them of potential POV status nor did MSHA monitor these mines for improved rates of significant and substantial violations.

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