At MSHA, the IG said officials remain challenged in maintaining a staff of experienced, diverse and properly trained inspectors to meet statutory enforcement obligations.
"This challenge will soon be exacerbated by retirements, with 39 percent of MSHA's health and safety personnel eligible to retire by 2017," the report said. "This is a particularly pressing issue given that it takes nearly two years to train new mine inspectors.
"Moreover, with seventy-eight percent of MSHA's top leadership becoming eligible for retirement by 2017, MSHA is challenged to develop future leaders in order to avoid leadership gaps in future years," the report said.
The report noted that MSHA "has made significant progress" in addressing agency weaknesses that preceded the April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster but still needs to implement other recommendations for reform.
IG officials noted that mining death and injury rates were at all-time lows in 2011 and 2012, and that the trends continued into 2013.
"However," the report said, "mining remains an inherently dangerous industry with too many injuries and fatalities."
For the 100 recommendations resulting from the Upper Big Branch internal review, MSHA reports that it completed corrective actions for 68, while 32 are still in the process of being addressed.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.