Mine Safety:

Questions Regarding Enforcement at Wilberg Coal Mine

HRD-88-30BR: Published: Nov 3, 1987. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) enforcement of certain safety standards at the Wilberg Coal Mine in Utah at the time a fire broke out, to determine whether MSHA: (1) violated any federal laws, regulations, or policies in approving the mine operator's proposal to use an alternative method to meet a ventilation safety standard; (2) should have requested up-to-date evacuation plans from the mine operator; and (3) should have required fireproofing of the compressor station.

GAO found that the MSHA district office: (1) did not comply with safety regulations requiring the weekly inspection of return airways at the mine; (2) approved without authorization the operator's ventilation method; (3) permitted the mine to operate with an outdated fire-fighting and evacuation plan; and (4) permitted the compressor station to operate without fireproofing and fire-suppression devices. GAO also found that MSHA has taken action to reduce the likelihood of another accident similar to the Wilberg fire by emphasizing to the district offices the need to: (1) require inspectors to travel entire airways during their examinations; (2) review all mine operating plans; and (3) install fire-suppression devices on air compressors similar to the one involved in the fire.

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