Whine And Mine: Federal Agency Defends Dangerous Mistake

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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A Mine Safety and Health Administration official defended her agency’s failure to insure availability of  correct emergency phone numbers in case of a mine collapse and disputed the degree of danger in such a mistake.

The MSHA listed 260 wrong or unidentifiable emergency phone numbers in the event of a mine collapse, according to the Department of Labor Inspector General, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported Thursday.

An agency spokeswoman claimed after the DCNF story appeared, however, that maintaining correct numbers is not the MSHA’s responsibility.

“The emergency response plans are maintained by the mine operator, not by MSHA,” agency spokeswoman Amy Louviere said. “So your statement that ‘the Mine Safety and Health Administration is required to list contacts for emergency services in case a mine collapses’ is incorrect.”

In fact, the IG pulled the 779 emergency phone numbers it tested directly from MSHA’s own system.

And MSHA’s web site describes insuring the emergency phone numbers as the agency’s responsibility:

“The mission of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is to… enforce compliance with mandatory safety and health standards as a means to eliminate fatal accidents; to reduce the frequency and severity of nonfatal accidents; to minimize health hazards; and to promote improved safety and health conditions in the nation’s mines.”

Louivere also questioned whether the IG was pointing out a serious safety problem, saying “we disagree with the level of risk the IG identified with this issue.”

The IG, however, pointed out a discrepancy.

“No regulation MSHA cited requires these call lists to be updated, and the only call lists specifically mandated to be posted under the regulations MSHA cited are for ’emergency medical assistance and transportation for injured persons,'” the IG said. Other emergency services, such as mine rescue teams, are not included under the regulation.

Also, while mines are required to maintain emergency phone numbers by the MINER Act of 2006, “MSHA’s periodic [emergency response plan] review process has not been correcting this issue,” the IG said.

“The inability to immediately reach emergency personnel during an accident could delay the arrival of rescue personnel and put miners at further risk,” the IG said. “Therefore, it is critical that any lists prepared be maintained complete and accurate at all times.”

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