In 2006, several mining tragedies led the Congress to pass the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act). The law required underground coal mine operators to develop emergency response plans that contain several components designed to improve accident preparedness and response, including providing a refuge of air to miners trapped underground after an accident and wireless communications systems. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is responsible for approving the plans and ensuring their implementation. GAO examined (1) the effectiveness of the approval process, (2) the status of implementation of the plans, and (3) MSHA's efforts to enforce and oversee implementation. To address these questions, GAO reviewed a nonprobability sample of emergency response plans, analyzed MSHA data, and interviewed MSHA officials and members of the mining community.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Labor||1. To ensure that new and existing mines are held to the same agencywide standards in preparing for future accidents, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health to develop and issue additional guidance to district offices to clarify what is required for key components of the emergency response plans, such as providing postaccident breathable air for the maintenance of trapped miners.|
|Department of Labor||2. To improve trapped miners' chances of survival after future accidents through the use of advanced technology, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health to work with National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop guidance for mine operators on how to meet the June 2009 requirement to provide postaccident wireless communications systems.|
|Department of Labor||3. To improve oversight of the enforcement and approval of emergency response plans, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health to take steps to ensure that district offices are consistently applying MSHA's guidance on approving and enforcing emergency response plans, such as: (1) analyzing its citation data by district offices and using the information to clarify policies across districts if these analyses reveal discrepancies in policies; (2) analyzing violations of the MINER Act and related regulations to identify trends and ensure that the appropriate penalties are being assessed, particularly for repeat violations; and (3) reviewing a sample of plans across districts to ensure that the content of the plans meets a consistent agencywide standard and, if not, take corrective action by clarifying the guidance.|