David Zatezalo Testifies Before Senate HELP Committee

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) questioned Donald Trump’s nominee to be the new head of MSHA, David Zatezalo, about small mine compliance assistance and technological advances within the mine industry during his recent confirmation hearing. In response, Mr. Zatezalo expressed his support for reinstituting an independent Small Mines Office within MSHA.  The main purpose of this office, first set up in 2003, is to provide compliance assistance and technical support to small mine operators.  Mr. Zatezalo also stated that he would make it a priority to provide access to educational support for small mines, many of which may be more vulnerable to safety hazards and increased injuries and fatalities because they often lack the resources available to larger operators.  The small mines office has diminished in importance in recent years, as MSHA focused on enforcement over education and assistance.

Assuming that Mr. Zatezalo is confirmed, the industry can expect more compliance assistance across the board.   Mr. Zatezalo’s testimony also suggests the new MSHA administration may shift resources from enforcement to education, training, and technological initiatives.  While rulemaking is expected to slow down under Mr. Zatezalo’s tenure, it will be interesting to see how the agency handles current proposed rules in the pipeline, such as the proposed workplace examination rule.

Zatezalo Nominated to Head Mine Safety Agency

David Zatezalo has been nominated Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Trump Administration announced on September 2, 2017. This announcement comes on the heels of the appointment of Wayne Palmer as interim Head of MSHA.

Zatezalo is the former CEO of Rhino Resources, a Kentucky-based coal company. He began his career as a miner with Consolidation Coal in 1974. He later served in a management role in the coal segment of American Electrical Power. He holds a degree in mine engineering from West Virginia University.

The aggregate community was lobbying for someone from with a metal/non-metal background to take this role. However, industry professionals expected the Trump Administration to offer this position to a mining professional with coal experience. A significant question will focus on the rulemaking agenda of the agency with Zatezalo heading it. Specifically, what will be the direction of the proposed workplace examination rule, which is due to take effect in October 2, 2017?


Mine Safety Agency Implements Medical Standards Action Plan for Inspectors, Technical Personnel

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will implement an action plan for employees who do not meet the agency’s medical standards.

As a condition of employment, MSHA inspectors and technical personnel must undergo periodic medical examinations, including vision and hearing tests, and meet medical standards set by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). To read my full article, click here.

New Acting Head of MSHA Named

On August 21st, 2017, Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, announced that Wayne Palmer, former Chief of Staff for the Department of Labor, will serve as interim Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, filling a role not addressed since Donald Trump’s inauguration.  It is not clear if Mr. Palmer has mining experience, as his position prior to working at the DOL was serving as Chief of Staff for former Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum.  Mr. Palmer worked on the transition team for President Trump, and was part of the beachhead team for the Department of Labor following the election. However, national and state mining associations continue to press for someone with a background working in the mining industry for the permanent head of MSHA position.

Due to the fact that this appointment is temporary, Senate confirmation is not required.  Therefore, new leadership roles can be filled within the agency fairly quickly.  The Trump Administration is expected to announce a nominee for the permanent role within the next 2 weeks.  Following the confirmation of the new Assistant Secretary for MSHA, Mr. Palmer may stay on as Deputy Assistant Secretary.

Mine Safety Agency Issues Accident Alert on Haul Truck Operations

The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a “Close Call Accident Alert” after a June 19, 2017, accident involving a haul truck driver.

In the incident, MSHA said, a haul truck driver with six weeks of experience traveled into the pit loading area and waited to be loaded. The driver stopped the haul truck about 30 feet from where a supervisor had parked his van, the agency said. The supervisor had been giving instructions to excavator operators in the area, and he returned to his van as the loader operator sounded the horn to notify the driver to move the haul truck into position for loading. The truck driver drove forward, striking and pushing the supervisor’s van 30-to-40 feet. The supervisor got out of the van through the window, without any injuries.

To read my full article, click here.

Mine Safety Agency Enhances Enforcement of ‘Rules to Live By’ to Prevent Mining Fatalities

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said it has begun “enhanced” enforcement of its “Rules to Live By” initiative, regulating standards commonly linked to mine deaths, as well as nine underground coal mine exam standards, targeting the greatest risks to miners in underground coal mines.

The agency announced in 2016 that these heightened measures would begin July 1, 2017. To read my full article, click here.

Mine Safety Agency Re-Launches Annual Program to Prevent Roof and Rib Fall Accidents

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said that it is re-launching its annual Preventive Roof/Rib Outreach Program (PROP) to expand awareness among coal miners and mine operators of roof and rib fall hazards.

The federal agency said that underground coal mine accidents from roof falls, rib falls, and coal bursts are still a leading cause of injuries, even though roof control technology improvements have reduced incident numbers significantly. To read my full article, click here.