MSHA’s Proposed Rule “Examination of Working Places in Metal and Nonmetal (MNM) Mines” Draws Criticism

In June, MSHA issued a proposed rule that would require metal and nonmetal mine operators (1) to conduct an exam of the working place before miners begin work in an area, (2) to inform miners in the work place of any conditions that may impact their safety or health, and (3) to have the competent person that conducts the exam document, sign and date the exam, its findings and corrective actions at the end of each shift.

Currently, operators are required to conduct workplace examinations at least once each shift and maintain examination records for one year.

MSHA held public hearings and public comments on the proposed rule were accepted until September 30, 2016. Some commenters raised concerns that such a rule would only serve as additional enforcement actions and citations against mine operators and such revisions were unnecessary. Other commenters raised issues related to the benefits and costs of the proposed rule and how the proposed rule would reduce injuries and fatalities.  Some commenters requested MSHA to clarify the definition of “working place” and the timing of the examination, specifically that the exams should occur at the beginning of work in the work area as opposed to beginning at the start of each shift.

Supporters of the rule, including the United Mine Workers of America, noted “the current federal law is nowhere near stringent enough to adequately protect miners….”

MSHA is currently reviewing the comments submitted.

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:


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.