Stickler promises MSHA will catch up
Charleston Gazette - WV,
October 6, 2007
Federal mine safety chief Richard Stickler has promised to catch up on required inspections at the nation’s coal mines.
This week, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a new “100 percent initiative” to complete all required safety inspections at coal mines before the end of the year.
Stickler has ordered inspectors to be temporarily reassigned and for MSHA managers to authorize 46,000 hours of overtime nationwide to correct missed inspections across the country’s coalfields.
“The 100 Percent Plan will ensure that MSHA has the necessary resources to fully enforce the mine act,” Stickler said in a prepared statement issued Thursday.
Stickler announced the plan after MSHA revealed that its missed inspections were not limited to the agency’s district in Southern West Virginia, where officials implemented a plan to conduct “spot inspections,” because they were so short on inspectors they could not finish required complete mine reviews.
MSHA has not disclosed how serious the inspection shortfall is, saying that complete data for the federal 2007 financial year, which ended Sept. 30, are not yet available.
Stickler blamed the problem on the “large number of inspector-trainees replacing retired or departing inspectors.” Because of those staffing changes, Stickler said, “MSHA has faced challenges in completing regular safety and health inspections.”
Stickler did not mention that the agency’s new inspector-trainees are refilling spots that had been left empty by budget and staffing cuts put in place since the Bush administration took office in 2001.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said, “It appears that MSHA is facing up to the result of years of neglect and is plotting an expeditious and concerted course to fix its lagging enforcement schedule.”
During a meeting with Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., Stickler reported that MSHA’s rate for completing inspections in Southern West Virginia dropped from nearly 90 percent in 2006 to 63 percent in 2007.
The MSHA inspection problems were made public after The Charleston Gazette reported that the agency was behind schedule to complete required inspections at two West Virginia mines where workers died earlier this year. After those reports, Byrd and Rahall began questioning MSHA about the issue.
Byrd pressed Stickler again last week about why Stickler did not act sooner to address the matter.
“MSHA needs to lay all of its cards on the table,” Byrd said later. “Coal miners have a right to know if the agency charged with protecting their safety is up to the job.
“And I need to know — in order to do my job as chairman of the Appropriations Committee — what MSHA’s true budgetary and personnel needs are.”