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MSHA response times criticized in DOL report

Minnesota residents may be alarmed to learn that the Mine Safety and Health Administration is sometimes slow to notify mine operators about conditions that could pose an imminent danger to workers. The response times of 6 of the federal agency's 12 coal districts were detailed in a report released by the Department of Labor on Sept. 30, and coal district 9, which covers a large part of the western United States, took 47 minutes on average to relay complaints about hazardous working conditions to mine operators.

The average response time in the five other MSHA districts audited was 40 minutes, which exposed mine workers to unnecessary risks according to the DOL report. The report also criticized the district 9 policy of sending safety complaints to a MSHA field office for release rather than relaying them to mine operators directly. While four of the districts audited by the DOL attempt to inspect mine facilities within 30 days of receiving a complaint, two districts had no such timeliness goals in place. The MSHA was also criticized for not providing the staff handling complaint calls with proper training and materials.

According to the DOL, this lack of training resulted in safety inspectors arriving at mining facilities not knowing where hazards were located or which machines were malfunctioning 12 percent of the time. The report concluded that the MSHA should adopt an agency-wide approach to safety complaints and ensure that all of its workers are provided with the guidance and oversight needed to implement such a policy effectively.

Employers in dangerous industry sectors like mining sometimes contest the workers' compensation claims made by their employees due to concerns over soaring insurance premiums. Attorneys with experience in this area could help those injured in workplace accidents by arguing on their behalf during workers' compensation hearings. Attorneys could also help workers gather the medical evidence necessary to show that they are not exaggerating the severity of their injuries.

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