Jackson Kelly PLLC

Workplace Safety and Health News Alert


April 18, 2019

By: Karen L. Johnston

For clients and friends of Jackson Kelly PLLC
Volume 15, Number 1
©2019 Jackson Kelly PLLC

Soon after his confirmation, David Zatezalo, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, MSHA, began laying out his vision for MSHA under his leadership.  A key aspect of his vision is “One MSHA,” a mission to eliminate the historical separation within MSHA between metal/nonmetal mines and coal mines.  In furtherance of the mission, Assistant Secretary Zatezalo created the position of “Administrator for Mine Safety and Health Enforcement,” and Timothy R. Watkins has responsibility for enforcement over all mines subject to MSHA jurisdiction.  The first phase of “One MSHA” started October 1, 2018, and designated 90 mines to be inspected by inspectors who had been cross-trained.  Approximately 21 inspectors received the training.

At the South Central Joint Mine Health and Safety Conference (SCJMHSC), held April 15-18, 2019, in Dallas, Texas, Mr. Watkins discussed details of the “One MSHA” initiative and the rollout of Phase Two, some of which is already underway.  Mr. Watkins noted that MSHA does not yet have a final vision of what One MSHA will necessarily look like and stated, “We continue to look at opportunities to blur the distinction between Coal and Metal/Nonmetal enforcement where it makes sense.”

As noted above, Phase One consisted of the crossover of inspectors between coal and metal/nonmetal.  For example, a quarry operator might see a couple of coal mine inspectors arrive to conduct an inspection or hazard complaint investigation.  The crossover was dependent, in large part, on personnel availability.  Now, with Phase Two, MSHA is being more intentional in its development of “One MSHA.”  Phase Two consists of re-aligning eight Field Offices to a District Office that geographically makes more sense and moving inspection responsibility of certain mines to a different Field Office where it geographically makes more sense.  This will result, for example, in some metal/nonmetal mines being assigned to what was traditionally a coal Field Office and some coal Field Offices being assigned to metal/nonmetal District Office.

Specifically, coal mine operators in Texas who are presently inspected by coal mine inspectors out of District 9 may soon see inspectors from metal/nonmetal field offices in Texas, like Dallas and San Antonio.  The Longview, TX (coal) Field Office will now report to the District Manager in the (metal/nonmetal) South Central District Office.  And, some metal/nonmetal mine operators in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico can expect coal mine inspectors to conduct inspections and investigations at their operations as they see their Field Office assignment switched to existing coal Field Offices, depending on the proximity of the mine site to a field office in Delta or Craig, CO, Farmington, NM, or Price, UT.  MSHA anticipates providing the regulated industry with more specific information about which field office and district office will have responsibility for a mine site.  Affected mine operators should be receiving phone calls from MSHA to advise of any change or re-assignment.

In addition, approximately 100 more mines will be inspected by cross-trained inspectors starting in Phase Two as training of inspectors continues.  MSHA developed a training module to prepare inspectors for the crossover into what is likely to be unfamiliar territory for many inspectors.  The cross-training, which started this past October, has continued in the new year at the MSHA Academy in Beckley, WV, and approximately 200 inspectors have been cross-trained.

Mr. Watkins also said that District Offices will be renamed at some point, most likely to reflect the city in which the District Office is situated.  The days of coal districts being identified by number and the metal/nonmetal districts being identified by a geographic designation, such as Rocky Mountain or Southeast, are numbered.  MSHA expects to begin the re-alignment of offices starting May 1, 2019.

In addition to Mr. Watkins, a number of other MSHA officials attended and participated in the SCJMHSC.  Wayne Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary – Policy, spoke on the technological advancements that the agency is currently exploring or implementing.  MSHA has been beta testing a new Mine Data Retrieval System (MDRS), accessible through its home page.  The agency expects to take it live in the next couple of weeks.  Mr. Palmer noted that the new MDRS will have enhanced search capabilities and will be compatible with mobile devices.  It will also allow users to transfer data into Excel worksheets more easily.  MSHA is also working on an updated website, one that would be more comparable to the Department of Labor’s website.  As part of the conversion to a new website, the agency is removing a lot of old policy documents.  It is unclear whether, once removed, the documents will be available through some sort of archival access.

Finally, in other news, you may have heard of recent transitions and changes within Jackson Kelly’s Workplace Safety and Health Group.  We recently said good-bye to a few of our colleagues in Denver and Pittsburgh when they joined a national Labor and Employment firm. We were sorry to see them leave and wish them the best.  Meanwhile, the Jackson Kelly Workplace Safety and Health Group remains committed to serving your workplace issues, including MSHA and OSHA enforcement and compliance needs, as we have for so many years.  Our primary contacts remain:

          Michael T. Cimino, Member, Charleston, WV Office
          Laura E. Beverage, Counsel, Denver, CO Office
          Karen L. Johnston, Member, Denver, CO Office
          K. Brad Oakley, Member, Lexington, KY Office

This article was authored by Karen L. Johnston, Jackson Kelly PLLC.  For more information on the author, click here.

Denver, Colorado

Responsible Attorney
Karen L. Johnston

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