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MSHA employees hurt more often than miners, lawmaker says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Employees of the federal government charged with enforcing mine safety laws are more likely to be injured on the job than workers in the mining industry, according to a Republican lawmaker who wants an explanation from the Obama administration.

Earlier this week, House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., wrote to the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration asking for some answers.

"MSHA has stated its 'culture of prevention embeds safety and health as core values in all initiatives and ongoing activities,'" Kline wrote in a letter to MSHA chief Joe Main. "However, it appears this core value is not being instilled in MSHA's own safety and health initiatives."

Citing Labor Department data, Kline said that MSHA over the last five years has had an injury rate among its employees of 5.69 injuries and illnesses per 100 employees. That compares to the mining industry's overall rate of 2.81 per 100 employees, Kline said.

Last year, MSHA had 121 total injuries or illnesses, and also had 34 lost-time injuries or illnesses, for a lost-time rate of 1.5 per 100 employees, or nearly three times the number of total injury and illness cases as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Kline said.

Federal data show MSHA's overall injury and illness rate has dropped from 6.7 per 100 employees in 2008 to 5.2 per 100 employees last year. Lost-time incidents stayed about the same over that period, the data show.

In August 2007, MSHA inspector Gary Jensen was among three rescue workers killed during an effort to search for the nine victims at the Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster in Utah.

Kline asked MSHA for information about its injuries and illnesses, and about agency plans to improve safety among its employees.

"As MSHA continues to address shortcomings in enforcement, training, and management in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, I want to ensure the agency includes a review of internal safety and health problems," Kline wrote.

MSHA spokesman Jesse Lawder said the figures cited by Kline are accurate.

"MSHA takes the health and safety of its employees very seriously," Lawder said. "We've received the letter from Chairman Kline and are reviewing it."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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