An internal review by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) revealed that 15 to 20 percent of its inspectors and technical personnel do not meet the agency’s medical standards.
MSHA announced that it is taking immediate action to implement an “action plan” for employees who do not meet the agency’s medical standards, according to a press release Wednesday from the Department of Labor (DOL).
Some of the employees have not met the medical standard for approximately eight years, and at least some of the violations related to vision and hearing, a DOL official confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF).
The report comes during a surge in coal miner’s deaths. Ten coal miners have died so far in 2017, compared to eight deaths all of last year.
Coal mining activity has increased 15 percent in July 2017, from the same time last year, which some industry officials cite as a primary factor for the increase in fatalities.
Upon hearing the news, Labor Sec. Alexander Acosta directed MSHA, an agency within DOL which develops and enforces safety and health rules for all mines in the U.S., to take immediate action to review the agency’s medical examination program.
Acosta directed MSHA to implement an “individualized assessment process” for employees who failed to meet the agency’s medical standards, according to documents obtained by TheDCNF.
News that MSHA inspectors and technical personnel are in violation of its own medical standards is likely to damage the reputation and rapport of an agency already inherently at odds with mining operators.
The agency’s strong mandate to enforce safety and health requirements over an industry that is inherently dangerous, combined with the intrusive nature of mining inspections, may create additional tension in the relationship between mining operators and inspectors.
Acosta’s move to address the situation may be an opportunity for the agency to build a relationship with mine operators based on cooperation, rather than the adversarial relationship under former President Barack Obama.
MSHA intends to move forward and “assist employees in meeting the requirements,” which suggests that the agency will tread carefully when dealing with employees who failed to meet medical standards.
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