Handling an MSHA Inspection: A Guide for Surface Miners

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)  is required to inspect surface mines twice a year, and underground mines four times a year. Additional inspections are required for mines with higher levels of toxic gas and/or explosives, as well as those that are reported due to hazardous conditions. Knowing what to expect and how to conduct yourself during an inspection can help you avoid citations and fines.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said, “The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.” This can also be said about a successful MSHA inspection. The preparations and actions taken before the inspection are crucial for ensuring a successful outcome.

What To DO Before the MSHA Inspection


Conduct Thorough Workplace Exams

The best way to avoid a citation is to address problems as they occur.  A thorough workplace exam will help you identify deficiencies so that they can be corrected.  Record what you find and what corrective actions you’ve taken.  MSHA requires deficiencies to be corrected in a timely fashion, so be diligent and address issues as they come up.  Make sure your employees know what to look for and why.

Review The Standards

Supervisors should be familiar with the various sections of the CFR book and know how to look the standards up.  Competence plays a big part in their mind.  It is also a good idea to discuss the standards at safety meetings. Always know your work site better than the inspector.

Prepare For the Inspection.

Decide ahead of time who will accompany the inspector during the inspection, subcontractors may also have a representative designated. It is important that this person is knowledgeable about MSHA standards and the work being performed on the site.  Have all required MSHA paperwork in one central location and ensure that the designated representative knows where this paperwork is kept.  Check our latest blog here, to see what paperwork should be included.

What to Do During the MSHA Inspection


Grant Access

When the inspector shows up at the mine site, he or she should never be denied access.  Work should continue as usual during the inspection. Ask the inspector to wait until the designated representative has joined them before commencing the inspection.  Always be courteous and professional with the inspector. Take the most direct route to inspection areas and shown them only the areas they want to see.

Document Everything

Bring a camera, notebook and a pocket copy of the CFR during the inspection.  Take good notes during the inspection – take your time to write down everything; who was on the inspection, who MSHA spoke to, the time and date, and any important things said.  If possible, take pictures of anything the inspector takes pictures of and take it from the angle that best represents your position.

Answer Questions Frankly and Simply

Be honest but avoid volunteering information, as it could be used against you or the company.  If you do not know the answer say so or seek out a manager who may have the answer. Remember, the inspector is a professional compliance officer with a job to do. If they find a citation it is their job to write it.

Offer An Explanation When Appropriate

Discuss the citations in the field before they are written.  Be diplomatic and avoid being argumentative or hostile. Cover all the bases. First, find out why he/she thinks a citation exists and what they classify as a hazard.  Then, present your defense (the area is traveled infrequently; nobody uses the access way, etc.) Review the standard together to see what it states.  This is a great way to avoid a citation or get one reduced.  It is O.K to respectfully disagree with the inspector and remain calm.  You will have other opportunities to discuss differences of opinion at the end of the day or at the close-out conference.

Address Issues as They Arise

Take appropriate corrective action promptly on any issues brought up by the inspector. Assure that the more serious actions are taken ASAP.  Work with the inspector to establish abatement times for violations cited when possible.

Stay With the Inspector

At no time during the inspection should the inspector be left unaccompanied; give them the attention they deserve. Wandering minds and bodies can do strange things and it will probably work against you, potentially causing you to miss a chance to avoid a citation.

When dealing with MSHA inspectors, remember that your relationship with the agency is vital for the safety and compliance of your operations. Always remain professional and take action to stay informed of the regulations and requirements. Doing so will keep your production on track and will help you to avoid expensive abatement costs and penalties from violations.

Understanding the requirements and expectations of an MSHA inspection, properly preparing, and maintaining a compliant and safe work environment can reduce the likelihood of citations and fines.  Adopting a proactive approach to safety and educating your team will help you navigate inspections more smoothly and enhance the overall safety and efficiency of your operations. Remember, the key to a successful MSHA inspection is thorough preparation, ongoing education, and professional conduct. Stay informed, stay prepared, and create a culture of safety to ensure your company remains compliant and productive.

At Catamount Consulting, we put people first.

Catamount Consulting provides leadership, safety, and training for mining, construction, and general industry. We deliver professional safety services, including MSHA compliance strategies, at a fair price and with the highest regard for quality and employee safety. Our trainers and safety consultants are available for in-person or offsite training and leadership speaking engagements. Please contact us to inquire about availability or more information.