MSHA to focus on health issues and impoundments in the US

As Attorney Karen Johnston at Jackson Kelly says, “there can be few things as dry as a federal agency’s Congressional Budget Justification but the 85-page document that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently released to justify its FY2011 budget submission to Congress has some interesting information for mine operators. The budget submission reflects the agency’s expected emphasis on health issues and impoundments and references the recently-announced enforcement program for priority standards.

“This is the first annual budget for MSHA prepared by the administration of President Obama. In the federal budget cycle, agency input begins about 15 months before the effective budget year.  The proposed MSHA FY2011 budget probably left the agency no later than the summer of 2009 and was reviewed and approved at the departmental level and at the Office of Management and Budget. MSHA is asking for more than $360 million in budget appropriations for FY2011.

Overall MSHA will remain relatively stable in size. It will gain five additional employees for a total of 2,430 employees and receive about a 1% increase over its 2010 budget. However, there will be significant shifts in the internal assignment of personnel which could have an impact on your mine. Coal Mine Safety and Health (CMS&H) will remain consistent with 1,217 employees. However, the Metal/Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health (MNMS&H) will add 21 employees as inspectors and conference and litigation representatives. According to MSHA’s Budget Justification, the Office of Small Mines in MSHA’s Educational Policy Development component would be disbanded and its 21 employees absorbed throughout the agency.  However, most of those employees are likely to be absorbed by CMS&H and MNMS&H at the district level.

“Most notably, the Office of Standards, Regulations, and Variances (OSRV) will increase by five employees, from 17 to 22. These five positions are specifically identified as necessary for rule-making for reducing coal mine dust and exposure to crystalline silica.

“MSHA’s budget justification promises that CMS&H will aggressively support its comprehensive respirable dust campaign and promises once again to target mines for special health inspections. The document also says that in FY2010 MSHA will conduct 12 special emphasis respirable coal mine dust inspections and continue to apply the lessons learned from the 2009 ‘Dustbuster’ pilot program.

“MSHA’s Program Evaluation and Information Resources’ (PEIR) submission had extremely interesting information about MSHA’s efforts to enforce the respirable coal mine dust standard. PEIR announced that in FY2010 it would be making ‘system changes to support CMS&H’s plan to use inspector intake air samples to void low weight gain operator samples.’

“CMS&H also promises to target violations associated with fatalities and to conduct regular inspections of high hazard impoundments. CMS&H expects the number of active mines to increase by a small percentage and the total number of inspection activities to decrease modestly.

“The metal/nonmetal component of MSHA also promises to target violations associated with fatalities and intends to hire civil engineers to inspect and target high hazard impoundments on mine property. MNMS&H also says that these engineers will be used to follow all new impoundments during all stages of development.

“MNMS&H’s budget submission also announces some initiatives on the health front.  First, MSHA will try to change the way it monitors dust and noise levels in mines. MSHA inspectors will start reviewing the records of dust and noise surveys conducted by mine operators and will issue enforcement actions where operators fail to survey and monitor both dust and noise in their mines. MSHA’s goal here is to use MSHA-conducted surveys primarily as a spot check on mine operators’ compliance. MNMS&H also announced that it will develop new policies for the enforcement of new standards relating to respirable crystalline silica and impoundments on mine property during FY2010.

“MSHA’s OSRV announced that it would increase its staffing by almost 23% to complete rulemaking on ‘reducing the exposure limit for respirable coal mine dust.’  Interestingly, OSRV also announced that it will begin work on a new regulation for ‘Notification of Legal Identity’ to ‘better target the most egregious violators by identifying controlling entities and imposing penalties and other remedies on those violators.’  The new regulation would ‘expand the required information’ necessary to complete the legal identity report.

The complete “FY 2011 Congressional Budget Justification-MSHA” can be found at this link: