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.

“It appears CMS&H removed at least 10 mines because of the limit established by the CMS&H administrator’s instruction,” Lewis said. “We are very concerned about mines removed for reasons other than appropriate consideration of the health and safety conditions at those mines. MSHA is not subjecting these mines to the enhanced oversight that accompanies potential POV status, yet it does not have evidence they reduced their rate of significant and substantial violations. As a result, miners may be subjected to increased safety risks.”

Although MSHA has suspended use of its POV Screening Criteria and Scoring Model while it evaluates possible revisions, the Inspector General’s office recommends MSHA immediately re-evaluate the appropriate POV status of the 10 mines that were previously removed from POV oversight and monitoring based on the CMS&H limits. “We also recommend MSHA assure that on future POV analysis all decisions to include or remove mines from POV-related enforcement efforts are based solely on the health and safety conditions at each mine,” Lewis said.

“Upon receiving the alert memorandum from the Inspector General, I ordered inspectors to make an additional visit to every one of the coal-producing mines on the list the IG said were not put on potential POV status in 2009 because of resource issues,” Main said. “Prior to this action, these mines had been subjected to numerous inspections and enforcement activity.”

Main said he shares the IG’s concern that district managers were asked to limit the number of mines to be placed into potential POV status, especially in MSHA’s District 4 office in southern West Virginia, which has the highest concentration of coal mines in the country. “While I understand that concern, a better response would have been to split District 4, so that all of the mines that need attention can receive attention. We have advocated for exactly that and are exploring ways to accomplish it. This is a better approach to handle the workload issues in District 4,” Main said.

The POV screening process the IG currently is investigating is no longer in use. “The career leadership at MSHA was following the existing policies in place prior to my arrival at MSHA, and I do not agree with these policies,” said Main. “Going forward, decisions about potential POV and POV enforcement actions will be based solely on what is best for the safety and health of the miners, within legal and regulatory constraints.”

MSHA intends to rewrite the existing MSHA policies governing POV prior to the next round of POV decisions later this year. “This will ensure the first POV determinations under my watch will be handled differently,” said Main.

The Inspector General will release a full report once its investigation is complete.