Mine inspector furloughs caused by shutdown raise safety concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WYMT) - More than half of the inspectors with the Mine Safety and Health Administration are furloughed because of the partial federal government shutdown.

Some coal industry officials are concerned a drop in inspections could lead to safety issues.

Nearly 1,400 MSHA employees nationwide are on furlough.

"It's never a good thing when the agency that's supposed to be the watchdog on behalf of miner safety is not operating at full strength," said Phil Smith with United Mine Workers of America.

Union miners can still refuse to work if a safety hazard is not fixed, Smith said.

"The problem is miners who work in non-union mines really don't have the opportunity to make that call without being identified and subjected to some sort of retaliation from management," he said.

The shutdown also creates other issues in the mining industry, Smith said.

"The proposed rules and regulations that MSHA is looking at with respect to coal dust, with respect to proximity detection devices put on underground machines...nothing's happening on those regulations while the government is shut down," he said. "And that's keeping miners at risk for much longer than they should be."

MSHA could not be reached for comment because of the furloughs.

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