Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

The Labor Department in The Carter Administration: A Summary Report — January 14, 1981 By Ray Marshall

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

MSHA was created in the Labor Department by legislation in 1978. Previously, responsibility for enforcement of federal mine safety and health legislation belonged to the Department of the Interior and, prior to 1973, to the Bureau of Mines.

The signing of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 affected virtually every aspect of mine safety and health, providing changes including but not limited to how the law is administered and who is covered, the establishment of new avenues of appeal for mine operators who are covered, the establishment of new avenues of appeal for mine operators who contest citations for violations, and increased involvement by miners or their representatives in processes affecting their safety and health.

MSHA's Coal Mine Safety and Health (CMS&H) division conducted over 50,000 inspections and accident investigations each year from 1978 through 1980. During these inspections an average of 120,000 citations were written each year.

CMS&H also instituted special programs designed to find, control, or eliminate critical safety and health hazards in coal mines. CMS&H began a resident inspection program at large, complex mines that release significant amounts of methane gas. A mine profile rating system was developed to evaluate relative safety and health conditions at surface and underground mines based on their record. A special emphasis roof program was begun, and a new uniform mine filing system was put into effect to enable survey teams to evaluate all inspection findings in total or only certain portions.

In another area, the Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health (M/N) increased its inspections from 22,000 in FY 1978 to over 53,000 in 1980. The Compliance Assistance Visits Program, started at non coal mines in late 1979, assisted mine operators pointing out potentially hazardous conditions and practices prior to beginning operations of the using of new equipment or facilities.

In cooperation with NIOSH, M/N produced an inventory of toxic substances and harmful physical agents in mines. As a result, six health hazards were targeted for standards development: radiation in uranium mines, milling reagents, silica dust, mineral fibers, welding fumes and noise.

Another special M/N project, the Program in Accident Reduction (PAR), succeeded in reducing accidents at certain "high hazard potential" mines by promoting safety and health awareness on the part of labor and management. Additionally, special health projects were conducted in cooperation with NIOSH, including studies of talc minerals exposure, fibrous minerals exposure, and the nature and extent of pulmonary diseases among cement workers.

Prior to the 1977 Act, civil penalties were required for violations, at coal mines but not at noncoal mines. With the 1977 Act's inclusion of penalties for violations at noncoal mines, MSHA's Office of Assessments significantly expanded its program. Use of the automated data processing system helped drop the backlog of cases to be assessed from 70,000 unassessed violations at the beginning of 1977, to 4,000 in 1980.

Administratively, to fulfill the 1977 Act's emphasis on the development of new and improved safety and health standards, stringent time frames for developing standards, and provisions requiring several specific standards and regulations, MSHA created a new Office of Standards, Regulations and Variances to coordinate the overall regulatory process.

In another area, MSHA's Education and Training activities had through 1980 approved nearly 22,000 mining industry training and 4,000 revised plans. E&T designed an evaluation process to approve the training plans, using the actual incidence of mining accidents and illnesses to locate areas of high safety or health risk.

E&T also prepared prototype training programs and material related to dust sampling, dust sampling equipment calibration and maintenance, new mine waste impoundments, and the self contained self rescuers. It also worked with CMS&H and M/N to develop specific training programs to reverse adverse accident trends.

Under its State Grants program to aid in miner training, 36 states were given a total of $6 million in 1980.

Finally, the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, dedicated in 1976 as a facility for training mine inspectors, technical support personnel, and others interested in mine safety and health, became part of MSHA in 1979. The Academy developed over 80 separate courses, while spending considerable time building up its academic staff, programs and facilities.