Public Radio Report Prompts Mine Agency To Change Procedures

Mar 1, 2012
Originally published on March 1, 2012 12:00 am

The federal agency that oversees the nation’s mines says it’s changing how it handles key documents designed to improve mine safety. The move was prompted in part by a public radio investigation on a fatal mine accident in north Idaho.

Last fall, we reported that a federal geologist wrote a report on unstable rock conditions back in 2008. It was at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho.

The report addressed weaknesses in the underground rock. Turns out, they were similar to those that led to a tunnel collapse in April 2011. That collapse killed miner Larry Marek.

In our investigation, we discovered that federal regulators never sent that original 2008 study to the mining company.

Minnesota Republican Congressman John Kline cited that failure in a letter to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Kline, who chairs a House workforce committee, said this was not the agency’s first such “lapse in communication.”

Now, the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration is implementing new steps to ensure technical studies do in fact reach mine operators. There will be a clearer chain of communication and investigators will be required to hold meetings with mine managers to discuss key findings.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration also did an internal audit to see if other reports were never sent. There was another one -- in 2008, on the Galena Mine, also in north Idaho. The agency says the findings were discussed with the mine’s owner at the time, but there’s no record that the final report ever made it to them.

On the Web:

Poor Mining Practices, Inadequate Oversight Preceded Miner's Death - Sept. 18, 2011

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=140581660

Rep. Kline’s Letter to MSHA:

http://edworkforce.house.gov/UploadedFiles/113011_Kline_Letter_MSHA_Tech_Audits.pdf

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