The Mine Safety and Health Administration ("MSHA") announced shortly after the massive explosion that killed 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia that the Agency would begin conducting "impact inspections" of mines that merit increased enforcement activities due to poor compliance histories or particular compliance concerns. The following characteristics will typically place a mine on MSHA's radar for impact inspections: high numbers of violations or closure orders; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries, or illnesses; fatalities; adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions, inadequate ventilation, and problems with respirable dust.
Impact inspections do not mean only increased numbers of inspections at a particular mine. Enforcement practices are also stepped up to include inspections during "off hours", such as evenings and weekends. MSHA will deploy additional inspectors on impact inspections to ensure that the mine is more thoroughly inspected. MSHA may even take control of the operator's phone and other lines of communication to prevent advance notice of the inspectors' presence.
MSHA has released the results of its impact inspections for the month of June 2013. Nine coal mines and four metal/nonmetal mines were subjected to impact inspections in June. These mines were collectively issued 157 citations, 10 orders, and one safeguard.
MSHA has conducted 629 impact inspections since April of 2010, issuing 10,640 citations, 980 orders and 45 safeguards as a result. According to MSHA, the impact inspections have led to improved compliance. The Agency's statistics purport to show that, since April 2010, total violations have decreased 18 percent in both coal and metal/nonmetal mines. Significant and substantial violations have decreased by 23 percent in coal mines and 37 percent in metal/nonmetal mines. Unwarrantable failure violations have seen an even sharper decrease, down 45 percent in coal mines and 65 percent in metal/nonmetal mines. Operator-reported lost-time injuries have also decreased 9 percent in coal mines and 26 percent in metal/nonmetal mines.
The last place that an operator wants to find itself is on MSHA's radar for impact inspections. Accordingly, it is important for operators to closely monitor its compliance history, challenge questionable citations and orders, and ensure that its safety practices meet industry regulations.