Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Concerning Release of the Internal Review Report
Jim Walter No. 5 Mine Explosions
January 24, 2003
On September 23, 2001, two explosions claimed the lives of 13 coal miners at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine near Tuscaloosa, Ala. Last month, MSHA investigators completed their report on the explosions. They determined that eight violations of Federal mine safety standards contributed to the fatalities. They also found that most of the victims were in harm's way because of poor emergency management. As a result, MSHA recently issued an emergency temporary standard to improve response to emergencies in all underground coal mines.
Subsequent to the explosions I ordered MSHA to begin an internal review into the agency's own actions prior to the incident. The purpose of an internal review is to examine MSHA's internal management system, to determine how the agency can improve its performance. A well managed agency translates to improved safety and health in the mining industry.
I have taken aggressive steps emphasizing to all MSHA personnel the importance of completing and implementing the actions to improve our performance in the deficient areas. I have set deadlines for completion of all the corrective actions that correlate to the recommendations of the internal review team.
It takes courage, concern, and confidence to conduct an evaluation of oneself. Our courage comes from wanting to do the "right thing"; our concern is directed toward the nation's miners; and critiquing our own performance does not shake our confidence. The result of the emergency temporary standard that we issued last month will create additional and lasting improvements in miner safety. We need to take that same kind of step in our own management process. This review and the corrective actions taken will provide the base for that step - a step that leads to enhanced miner health and safety.
When we improve MSHA's own management process, we can make more effective use of all the tools provided in the Act - enforcement, education and training, and technical support. Our goal is to make safety a value throughout the mining industry and lead industry to the next level in safety and health performance so that every miner returns home safe at the end of every working shift.
I appointed an internal review team consisting of highly qualified MSHA personnel from outside the district where the incident occurred. The internal review team was independent of the investigation team. The team reviewed existing policies and procedures, inspection records, and data in MSHA's computer system. They also interviewed agency employees who perform inspection, investigation and supervisory functions. The team has completed its assignment, and prepared a detailed report, which documents recommendations. Today I met with all employees in MSHA's District 11, and thoroughly discussed the results of the report.
Several of the issues identified during the internal review process concerned me deeply. In fact actions are already on-going to correct those issues. In addition we are implementing procedures to:
- Enhance our management oversight at the District and National level;
- Revise our accountability program;
- Develop a mentoring program for new inspectors and supervisors;
- Revise the agency's inspection manual;
- Improve our information technology system to effectively identify violations associated with inadequate rock dust/coal dust samples;
- Provide an enhanced training program for our enforcement personnel on appropriate levels of enforcement.
In addition, the internal review identified shortcomings in MSHA's system to track internal actions related to rock dust/coal dust surveys and the "unwarrantable failure" citation and order sequence. They also found that in some instances there was a failure to properly apply the appropriate level of enforcement for an observed condition or practice.
Federal Mine Agency Strengthens Oversight and Accountability Systems
Publishes Internal Review on Alabama Mine Explosions
Brookwood, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama (PDF)