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Eye Opener: Audit faults mine inspector training

By Ed O'Keefe

West Virginia State Police direct traffic at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Coal Mine on Monday in Montcoal, W.Va. (AP)

Eye Opener

Updated 6:20 a.m. ET
A new government audit faults the federal government's mine inspection agency for poorly retraining veteran mine safety inspectors in recent years. The watchdog report was published just days before a West Virginia mine explosion Monday that left at least 25 mine workers dead.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration hired more than 350 new inspectors in fiscal years 2007 and 2008, increasing its total inspection force by 26 percent. But 56 percent of veteran inspectors failed to attend required retraining courses during a two-year training cycle that started in 2006, according to the audit.

At least three inspectors had failed to attend retraining courses since the inception of the agency's new training policies in 1998. The agency failed to track and ensure completion of retraining courses and did not punish inspectors who failed to attend courses, according to the report by the Labor Department Inspector General. MSHA is part of the Labor Department.

The lax enforcement allowed a new recruit to perform inspections without completing minimum entry-level training, according to the report. The recruit was able to do so even though the agency had not defined circumstances that permitted recruits to skip training.

Auditors surveyed about 260 veteran inspectors; 27 percent of those polled believed that MSHA did not provide them with the technical training they needed to effectively perform their duties. Other inspectors said they believed the agency had failed to provide them with sufficient understanding of mining laws and regulations, agency policies and procedures, and current mining technology.

Auditors recommended that MSHA hold supervisors accountable if inspectors failed to complete retraining and suggested suspending an inspector if they failed to complete retraining.

MSHA Director Joseph Main, who took over in 2009, agreed with the auditor's recommendations and said the agency will hold district managers, assistant district managers and field supervisors accountable if inspectors fail to complete retraining. It will also reiterate the importance of training programs to employees and revise its training policies.

Agency officials didn't yet know Monday night what caused the West Virginia blast, but the mine reportedly releases up to 2 million cubic feet of methane gas into the mine every 24 hours and has faced several safety violations in the past.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 6, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  | Tags:  Federal government of the United States, Massey Energy, Mine Safety and Health Administration, Technology, United States, United States Department of Labor, West Virginia, mine blast  
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***The agency failed to track and ensure completion of retraining courses and did not punish inspectors who failed to attend courses, according to the report by the Labor Department Inspector General. MSHA is part of the Labor Department.

The lax enforcement allowed a new recruit to perform inspections without completing minimum entry-level training, according to the report.***

and let's review who was the Labor Secretary during those years. Why, it was none other than Elaine Chao, wife of Republican Senator, Mitch McConnell. and we all know how sympathetic they are to labor and safety issues.

Posted by: mycomment | April 6, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Leave it to the lone poster here to turn a government induced tragedy into a partisan event. Lack of training for federal government employees is not the fault of one political party or another…it IS THE FAULT OF GOVERNMENT!

As any Libertarian can tell you, government doesn’t work! The department of energy provides none. Lawsuits prompted by defective drugs continue despite the FDA. I could go on and on for several virtual pages, but the crowning glory is the absolute uselessness of the Federal Reserve. It’s supposed to curtail violent swings in financial markets, not cause them!

Government doesn’t work and both political parties are to blame!

Posted by: sosueme1 | April 6, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Attacks via drone are simply cowardly, using technological prowess to assassinate is not honorable, nor is it allowable within the warrior code.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | April 6, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

During the Bush Error, fines for Mine violations were so low that it was more cost effective to pay the fines and keep violating the laws.

Posted by: angie12106 | April 6, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

To the Libertarian who is so convinced government is a hopeless failure. Please explain what method we are to use to have a safe financial system, safe and clean industry, fair prices (monopoly) etc. The mine failure is private industry failure. The poor training of the federal mine inspectors is a government problem. But it was a government audit that uncovered the problem and it can be corrected. No my friend you are all bash government but no solution for any human problem. Just let anarchy rule which would be ok if everyone behaved by putting others interest above their own but guess what they do not.

Posted by: chucko2 | April 6, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Typical BS blame everyone except those who own and are supposed to keep Safety standards in place. Inspectors verify the Mine Operators observe Safety Standards; It's the companies job to maintain safety standards whether an inspector is comming to visit or not.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company can spend $1 Million to support the TEA PARTY but can't find the money to maintain safety, MHSA, standards and Rules that are well published.

Posted by: ddoiron1 | April 6, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

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