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MSHA News Release No. 95-018
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

May 10, 1995


The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today announced that the agency would conduct a review of its mine accident investigation policy, particularly with respect to witness interviews. MSHA is required by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 to conduct independent investiga- tions of mining accidents in the United States, especially those involving fatalities.

"Our purpose in an investigation is to examine the conditions and practices at the mine site at the time of an accident which will ultimately lead to finding its cause and preventing similar accidents," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Essential to this process is the complete and forthright testimony of any witnesses to the events leading up to an accident. During this review, we will examine, among other issues, just how best to obtain information needed in our search for the truth."

MSHA's accident investigation procedure is designed to establish all relevant facts about a mining accident in an orderly manner. The agency conducts these reviews in three phases--physical inspection of the mine, complete analysis and testing of mining equipment which may have been involved in the accident, and interviews of persons who may have relevant information about the conditions which led up to the accident.

The Mine Act also requires that mine operators separately conduct investigations of accidents occurring at their mines.

McAteer said MSHA will solicit the input of the mining community on this matter as well as the views of other federal agencies, state mining agencies, state bar associations, and others during the agency review.

"There are important issues involved in the witness interview phase of accident investigations that cause recurring concerns in the mining community," said McAteer. He related that after fatal accidents in the past, there have been concerns raised over the presence or absence of mine operators, miners' representatives, families of victims involved, the news media, and the general public during witness interviews.

"Ideally, we would be able to obtain candid testimony from all witnesses without negating the information needs of mine operators, miners' representatives, and the accident victims' families," added McAteer.

MSHA last reviewed its accident investigation policy in 1991. This current policy directs that interviews be conducted in an atmosphere conducive to candor and thorough fact-finding. Witnesses may have a personal representative present. The agency accident investigation team leader must determine, on a case-by- case basis, whether or not the presence of any other parties could discourage witnesses from telling the whole truth.

McAteer indicated that he would appoint a top-level person within the agency to lead the review and that the results of the study, expected to take about three months, will be made available to the public.