The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which inspects coal mines, said Oct. 2 that the FBI Laboratory’s Evidence Response Team Unit is facilitating a two-week course on conducting accident investigations for 18 of the agency’s accident investigators and special investigators.
This announcement could be viewed as something of a warning shot across the bows of the coal industry, which has been subject to particularly heightened MSHA enforcement since the April 2010 Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 29 miners.
The pilot training program began Sept. 24 and will continue through Oct. 5 at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, W.Va. The training covers securing an accident scene, photographing and sketching, collecting and packaging evidence, conducting interviews, dealing with false or altered records, and releasing the scene after the initial accident evaluation.
“This training will help improve MSHA investigators’ skills and knowledge to conduct investigations under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 – including willful violations of the Mine Act – as well as accident investigations,” said MSHA head Joseph Main. “In the event an accident investigation identifies possible criminal activities, MSHA’s investigators will be better prepared to interact with the Department of Justice.”
“MSHA’s accident investigation team has a very difficult and challenging job,” said FBI Laboratory Director D. Christian Hassell. “Its commitment to ensuring the integrity of the evidence, collected during the course of their investigations, is commendable. The FBI is pleased to work with this group of dedicated professionals, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with MSHA as the agency enhances its training program.”
MSHA noted that the minimum requirements to become a special investigator include being an authorized representative of the Secretary of Labor, who oversees MSHA, with authority to conduct inspections or having the authorization for right of entry to mining operations, as well as the completion of five weeks of formal classroom training. Credentials also may be obtained through an on-the-job training program.
A lead accident investigator must be an authorized representative and is required to complete 21 weeks of classroom training at the academy, combined with extensive field training and evaluation.