MSHA lacks data on underreporting of injuries, IG says

Federal mine safety regulators don’t know how often coal operators underreport injuries and accidents to avoid tougher enforcement actions, according to a new report from the Department of Labor’s Inspector General.

Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration lacks adequate “knowledge of the occurrence of underreporting” that is “needed to detect and deter underreporting” across the mining industry, according to the Inspector General’s audit, made public Tuesday.

“MSHA had only a rough estimate of underreporting, but no information on which mines were the most likely to underreport and which types of injuries were the most likely to be underreported,” the audit said.

Questions about underreporting came up in the wake of the deaths of 29 miners in April 2010 in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. MSHA inspectors uncovered accident reporting violations by Massey, and Massey itself revealed significant errors in its accident reports filed with the agency.

The IG report says that MSHA hired a contractor to conduct a study to help it better understand “the level of accuracy and completeness” of injury reporting by the industry and to identify “feasible improvement approaches” for the agency.

The consultant, Eastern Research Group or ERC, proposed that MSHA perform more random audits of accident reporting.

MSHA acknowledged that a broader audit program was needed, but said it was concerned that this approach “is too resource-intensive to be feasible.”

“MSHA officials state that while the question of the extent and magnitude of underreporting is an important one, the cost of obtaining the answer through auditing of mines randomly selected through sampling cannot be justified in the current budgetary climate,” the IG report said.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at or 304-348-1702.

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