Their regular duties put on hold by the government shutdown, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are operating under contingency plans to guard against imminent safety and health threats, while legal challenges to these agencies’ enforcement proceedings have largely been suspended.
MSHA’s plan to weather the shutdown is to keep 41 percent of its workforce of 2,355 on the job. This is in sharp contrast to OSHA, which said it requires just 230, or 10 percent, of its 2,235 employees to address essential functions.
The mine safety agency’s employees will be used to continue impact inspections, which target mines MSHA believes have a history of putting miners at risk. Hazard-specific inspections aimed at conditions and practices that have led to recent mine fatalities and serious injuries will continue. Also undisturbed will be investigations into accident and miners’ safety complaints, as well as selective sample analyses. To support these activities, a minimal level of supervisory staff will be maintained at all of MSHA’s district and field offices.
MSHA also said it would continue to perform certain plan reviews and approvals, provide information technology support, maintain a minimal emergency response presence and provide security at the Mine Academy and at its facility in Triadelphia, WV.
OSHA said it will continue to enforce both imminent danger situations and activities involved in responding to workplace fatalities and catastrophes. In addition, OSHA will maintain staff to respond to emergencies and to safety and health complaints or other information deemed to present a high risk of death or serious harm. A key function of its compliance staff during the shutdown will be to assist in tracking and processing open cases/citations to ensure statute of limitations dates do not lapse.
OSHA’s 10 regional offices will remain open with minimal staff. Senior compliance officers specializing in safety and in health (one each) will staff each of its 92 field offices, and its Salt Lake City Technical Center will retain two senior chemists and two industrial hygienists from its health response unit.
Meanwhile, with staffing at the Office of the Solicitor of Labor cut by 90 percent and the Office of Administrative Law Judges cut to zero, Department of Labor attorneys are handling only core legal services required of DOL agencies and cases involving human life or property protection. Four DOL attorneys remain assigned to MSHA. Attorneys will be added in cases where federal court litigation or statutes of limitations cannot be adjusted. However, the strategy for most cases will be to seek extensions, a move that will further clog the system and aggravate the case backlog.