The results from the September, 2017, MSHA impact inspections indicate a significant shift in enforcement practices and resources. The data shows that not only has the use of impact inspections in general receded over the past few months, but metal/non-metal mines in particular have received impact inspections at extremely low rates.
In April, 2010, MSHA initiated the impact inspection program as a mechanism through which high violation operators are subject to multi-inspector inspections in between regular inspections for the purpose of conducting an in-depth inspection. The results are publicized in a press-release at month’s end. Specific compliance concerns, or a pattern of significant enforcement activity, historically formed the justification for impact inspections. High penalty citations, 104(d) orders, and other elevated actions have regularly been issued during impact inspections.
The September, 2017, impact inspection results reflect that only one metal/non-metal mine received an impact inspection with a total of 11 citations issued. As a comparison, in September, 2016, five metal/non-metal mines received impact inspections, with a total of 57 citations issued. At no other point in 2017 has less than three metal/non-metal mines been subject to an impact inspection. The trend from 2016 into 2017 has been to shift personnel and financial resources from the coal sector to metal/non-metal due to the closure of many coal operations over the past several years. With increased personnel and monetary resources, the metal/non-metal sector nonetheless decided to conduct only one impact inspection in September, 2017. The coal side saw a relatively stable number of impact inspections throughout 2017, usually around 10-11 each month.
President Trump’s proposed budget sought to increase metal/non-metal funding by $3.4 million and reduce coal funding by $3 million, reflecting declining coal mining figures. Therefore, it is possible that the reduction in impact inspections for metal/non-metal mines, despite stable and possibly increased funding, may indicate that a shift away from enforcement towards compliance assistance has already begun.