Mine Safety:

Inspector Hiring, Penalty Assessments, and Injury Reporting

HRD-87-71BR: Published: Mar 10, 1987. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) mine inspections, specifically: (1) MSHA efforts to hire more inspectors; (2) penalties MSHA assessed mine operators in 1986 for not reporting injuries; (3) mining associations' and union officials' opinions on whether the MSHA penalty policy deters underreporting; and (4) a comparative statistical analysis of small and large mines that have had fatalities.

GAO found that MSHA: (1) undertook an inspector hiring program to increase its work force to 1,201 by April 1987; (2) will employ 828 coal inspectors and 373 metal inspectors when it has completed its hiring and training; and (3) will need 3 to 6 months to train its rehired inspectors and 18 to 24 months to train new inspectors. GAO also found that: (1) in 1986, MSHA assessed $31,388 in penalties against mine operators for failing to report injuries; (2) the increase in the 1986 assessments of $3,600 over the previous 4 years combined was due to a policy change requiring a citation for each instance of a failure to report an injury, rather than citing multiple instances of underreporting as one instance; (3) all of the labor organizations and four of the nine mining associations GAO interviewed stated that the current penalty policy did not deter underreporting of injuries because the fines were too low, and they recommended minimum fines of $100 to $500 per violation; and (4) officials of five mining associations stated that the current penalties served as a deterrent and that instances of underreporting occurred mostly for nonserious injuries, in situations where MSHA reporting criteria were unclear, or through administrative error. A comparative analysis of large and small mines that experienced fatalities indicated that small mines significantly underreported injuries, and MSHA officials felt that confusing rules contributed to these reporting differences.

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