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DOL Watchdog to Mine Agency: Reconsider Virus Standard Denial

July 28, 2020, 7:08 PM

The Mine Safety and Health Administration should reevaluate its decision not to implement an emergency temporary standard for mine workers, according to a Labor Department watchdog report.

The Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General said in the report dated July 24 but released Tuesday that while the federal mine safety agency in March issued an advisory to its workforce and to the mining industry, covering topics such as maintaining social distancing, MSHA can’t enforce that guidance “unless it issues an emergency temporary standard.”

Identifying ongoing challenges to the agency that include unavailable inspectors, a lack of personal protective equipment for MSHA workers and inspection delays, the IG said “more action is needed” by the agency. Recommendations for the agency include monitoring any Covid-19 outbreaks at mines and for a potential backlog of suspended and reduced enforcement activities.

MSHA agreed with the findings, according to the report. A representative from that agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report, part of the OIG’s Pandemic Oversight Response Plan, follows a federal court’s decision not to force the agency to create an emergency temporary rule at the request of two labor unions.

In a July 16 order, Washington U.S. Court of Appeals judges David S. Tatel, Thomas B. Griffith, and Patricia A. Millett said “MSHA has assured the court that it views its existing standards as imposing COVID-related duties on mine operators and that it is issuing citations with respect to COVID-related violations.”

The United Mine Workers of America International Union and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers jointly filed a petition on June 16 seeking a court order forcing MSHA to create an emergency standard.

The agency immediately rejected the calls for a new standard, stating that asking the agency to issue an emergency standard “would not guarantee an effective response to COVID-19, and in fact could have the opposite effect.”

—With assistance from Ben Penn.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fatima Hussein in Washington at fhussein@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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