That deadline-driven report analyzed MSHA actions in the months preceding the Q2 2010 explosion, which killed 29 miners, injured two and led to sweeping mine safety changes industry-wide.
“The review was designed to identify shortcomings so that we could take actions to improve mine safety and health,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “The result was one of the most extensive improvements at the agency in decades.”
In Q2 2012, MSHA officials began posting quarterly updates on their website of completed corrective actions. The MSHA, however, implemented administrative, organizational and regulatory reforms in the immediate aftermath ahead of survey results.
Reforms included enhanced enforcement programs, including impact inspections and a revised pattern of violations process; the splitting of the southern West Virginia coal district into two districts and the upgrading of the Mount Hope, W. Va., laboratory for better coal dust and gas analyses.
Additional measures included reorganization of the MSHA Office of Assessments, Accountability, Special Enforcement and Investigations to better manage and support enforcement and the publication of final regulations of rock dust maintenance, examinations in underground mines and a program aimed at chronic violators.
“Meeting self-imposed timelines was a major challenge,” added Main, noting other demands facing the agency, including mission-critical needs, sequestration and the 16-day government shutdown. “The MSHA was able to maintain schedule throughout the process and finish actions on time — a testament to the hard work and dedication of our employees.”
Other corrective actions included revisions or developments affecting more than 40 policy directives, mine inspection procedure handbooks and a new coal roof control handbook. More than 20 MSHA training sessions were also addressed, including a new centralized system to improve oversight across agency directives and consistency guidance
Further new measures included a Modification of the Mine Plan Approval database system and the integration of a common tracking system for inspector re-training and creation, with the Holmes Safety Association and mining community, of a national mine rescue organization.
“The Upper Big Branch tragedy shook the very foundation of mine safety,” added Main. “It caused us to re-double efforts to instill a culture of prevention in mining. These actions are part of MSHA’s efforts to improve conditions so miners can go to work, do their jobs and return to their loved ones safe and healthy at the end of every shift.”
Following the episode, MSHA and mining community initiatives have led to fewer mines with chronic violations, record reductions in temporary reinstatements and discrimination case filings and a reduction of breathable dust to lowest exposure levels in history. Other breakthroughs have included lowest fatal and injury rates in 2011 and again in 2012 and lowest fatal and injury rates and number of mining deaths ever recorded in a fiscal year.
A list of MSHA’s corrective actions can be found on the Upper Big Branch single source page at: http://www.msha.gov/PerformanceCoal/UBBInternalReview/UBBCorrectiveActions.asp.