Mine Safety Agency Extends Comment Period on Controlling, Monitoring Diesel Exhaust Request for Information

The public will have until November 30, 2016, to submit comments on the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Request for Information on the agency’s strategies for controlling and monitoring exposure of underground miners to diesel exhaust. To read the full article, written by Carla Gunnin, click here.

MSHA Issues Safety Alert for Drill Operators

On August 10, 2016, MSHA issued a drill safety alert for operators regarding the dangers posed by rotating machinery that can entangle clothing and body parts and result in serious injuries and death. The safety alert was spurred by seven fatalities since 2002 involving drills and the risk of entanglement in rotating machinery. In press coverage regarding the release of the safety alert, Joseph Main, the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health, stated that:

“Paying attention to safe job procedures, staying clear of rotating drill and augers, complying with drilling safety standards and following best practices will reduce the risk of death or injury.”

MSHA’s safety alert identifies 12 best practices that drill operators could implement to reduce their risk. Some of the practices identified include establishing written policies for the type of clothing and methods to secure clothing when working around drills, not allowing drill operators to wear loose-fitting or bulky clothing when working around drilling machinery, stopping the drill rotation when performing tasks near the rotating steel, assuring that machine controls and safety devices operate effectively and are in easily accessible locations, and communicating regularly and frequently with drillers to assure that they are safe and well.

If you have a suggestion for a future safety alert, MSHA encourages you to submit it to: MNMAccidentPrevention@dol.gov.


MSHA Claims Respirable Coal Dust Samples Prove New Dust Rules Are Feasible

The Mine Safety and Health Administration recently announced results from coal mine dust sampling from April 1, 2016 through June 30, 2016, claiming that 99 percent of the samples were in compliance with MSHA’s coal mine dust standards. The agency stated the results demonstrate the “significantly positive impact” of new coal dust sampling rules published in 2014.

The new rules “closed many loopholes in the dust-sampling program” that according to the agency “had left miners exposed to” unhealthy dusts. The rule also included provisions for sampling frequency and the use of a new sampling device.

In a press release issued by the agency, MSHA stated:

For the recent sampling, the agency analyzed more than 20,000 underground coal mine operator samples using the new, cutting edge Continuous Personal Dust Monitor that provides miners with dust results in real time during the working shift. About 99 percent were in compliance.  These results correspond to the respirable dust samples collected from Aug. 1, 2014, through Jan. 2016, during Phase 1, when 87,000 dust samples were collected from surface and underground coal mines by MSHA and coal mine operators.  Nearly 99 percent of those samples met the dust concentration limit.

MSHA noted that Phase III of the rule begins in August. Phase III will lower the respirable dust limit from 2.0 mg per cubic meter to 1.5 mg per cubic meter of air.  Operators should remain diligent with respect to efforts to reduce coal dust levels in accord with MSHA’s efforts in this area.

No one Accepts Fatalities, Injuries or Illnesses as the Cost of Doing Business

Never rest on your laurels, particularly when it comes to the safety and health of miners. With our mines safer than ever, we should ask: how do we get even better, keep the trend moving in the right direction and speed up our progress?  There are several good ways to answer that question.

In a column for the June issue of Rock Products,No one Accepts Fatalities, Injuries or Illnesses as the Cost of Doing Business,” I discuss one answer to that question, an answer that was recently offered by head of MSHA, Joe Main.  Here it is: “We don’t have to accept fatalities as the cost of doing business in this industry.”  To be fair, that was not the Assistant Secretary’s only answer, but it wasn’t a good one.

Near as I can tell, the head of MSHA was suggesting that fatalities occur simply because mine operators just don’t spend enough money or pay enough attention to the safety and health of miners.  Who has he been talking to?  I grew up in a mining family and have represented clients in the mining industry all over the country for many years.  I’ve yet to meet anyone in mining—in aggregates, metal, non-metal or coal—who just accepts “fatalities as the cost of doing business.”  The industry doesn’t, and neither does MSHA.

Mr. Main cares deeply about the safety and health of his employees, just as he cares about the safety and health of all miners.  I am certain he doesn’t accept injuries or illnesses suffered by MSHA employees as the cost of doing the government’s business.  Nevertheless, the injury and illness rates for MSHA employees show that MSHA hasn’t been able to get to zero—zero fatalities, injuries and illnesses.  So, why can’t MSHA get to zero?

One answer to that question is MSHA’s extremely narrow focus on conditions and practices, not acts and behavior.  While the Act requires MSHA to focus on conditions and practices, it does not bar MSHA from acknowledging the role that unsafe acts play, and it certainly does not prohibit MSHA working with the industry to address unsafe acts.  Industry knows this and is acting accordingly, and I hope that MSHA will do the same.

Commission: MSHA may obtain contact information for every mine employee

According to a recent Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission decision, MSHA has the right to obtain a mine operator’s entire list of employees, including contact information, as long as its demand is a reasonable attempt to fulfill the agency’s statutory responsibilities. In Sec’y of Labor – MSHA v. Warrior Coal, LLC, Docket Nos. KENT 2011-1259-R, 2011-1260-R and 2012-705 (May 17, 2016), the majority relied on prior case law finding that MSHA has wide authority in obtaining documents from operators. One commissioner dissented and another wrote a concurring opinion, however. Read more . . . 



Summer blockbuster sequel coming to a mine near you July 1: RTLB IV

It may sound like a summer blockbuster but it won’t be as much fun. In just a few weeks, MSHA will launch RTLB IV, the latest edition of its “Rules to Live By” program. Although 2015 may have been the safest year ever in U.S. mining, MSHA says the new initiative, which begins on July 1, 2016, is needed to further prevent fatalities.

The RTLB program began in 2010 to focus inspectors and mine operators on health and safety standards, which MSHA says are the most commonly cited and have caused or contributed to mining fatalities. This fourth generation of the program highlights two standards, which MSHA says are responsible for 12 fatalities of the last decade: safe lighting in surface coal, 30 CFR 77.207, and a standard which requires scaling in underground metal/nonmetal operations to be performed from a location that does not put miners at risk of injury from falling materials, 30 CFR 57.3201. Read more on what the program means and how to prepare.

The following is contributed by Ross Watzman, associate, Jackson Lewis P.C. 

MSHA’s recent actions regarding Continuous Personal Dust Monitors (CPDMs) have left many frustrated, feeling that MSHA has been too hasty to regulate without fully examining the impact on safety when it required new dust monitoring tools that apparently interfere with existing mining equipment meant to increase safe operations. In my recent column for Coal Age Magazine, “A Single (Minded) Step in the Wrong Direction,” I examine MSHA’s response and investigation into the interference created by CPDMs when used in the vicinity of proximity detection systems (PDS). Should the Continuous Personal Dust Monitors’ interference with proximity detection cause MSHA to revisit a rule that it has vigorously defended? Read more…

Judge: Inspector’s vendetta against foreman was “abuse of position”

An MSHA inspector talks of “smothering” a mine foreman “with paper” and proceeds to issue a series of S&S citations with penalties of almost $50,000. It turns out that 20 years ago, both the inspector and the foreman had worked together at another mine. The inspector was then a miner and the foreman was his shift superintendent.

Way back then, the now-foreman had disciplined and suspended the now-MSHA inspector. Apparently, the inspector never forgot. The Judge called the inspector’s citations an “abuse of position,” issued against a “backdrop of animus.” What became of the citations, and what should you do in a similar situation? Read more here.