A recent review of data revealed that 99.6% of the agency's citations since 1995 have been correctly charged and less than 0.5% have remained unassessed. Of 1,343,081 violations written that required assessed penalties over the period, 1,337,988 actually had fines assessed - leaving 5,093 with no follow-up.
Assistant secretary Richard Stickler cited two issues in the shortfall: technical issues with MSHA's Standardized Information System (MSIS) computer system, and what the agency is referring to as "management oversight problems that required attention".
While the statistics show the agency never fell below 99% in the last 13 years, it saw a steady decline between 1995 and 2004, beginning a gradual rebound just over the last two years. The data for 2006 was only partially available and last year's figures were not compiled, the agency noted on its report.
Stickler said that while the underperformance could be traced back to 1995, it likely went back even further. "The good news is that we have identified the root causes, and I am implementing a plan to ensure that MSHA improves the process going forward.
"Our agency will work to assess every single citation issued by our enforcement personnel."
To overcome the issues and ensure full fine assessment percentages, Stickler initiated a two-fold corrective action plan to address the problems, while noting that some changes had already been made.
"The MSIS technical problems have been identified and are being corrected immediately. On the management front, new procedures have been implemented, and district managers in the agency have spoken to their respective offices to explain these procedures."
It is currently developing enhanced management reports to allow real-time access to assessment data with oversight capabilities that can alert proper staff to issues.
"Citing mine operators for safety and health violations is one of the most important tools we have to encourage a culture of safety and this improvement in the assessments process will further our mission," Stickler said.