Earlier this week, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued new guidance on how aggregate producers should address COVID-19 at their sites. Titled “Protecting Miners: MSHA Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19,” the guidance includes both recommendations and mandatory requirements. Highlights from its guidance are listed below.
MSHA recommends inclusion of the following elements in an operator’s COVID-19 prevention programs:
1. Identify a mine coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the operator’s behalf, and who will regularly communicate with the miners’ representative or other direct contacts for miners.
2. Identify where and how miners might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. This includes a thorough assessment of the mine site to identify potential hazards related to COVID-19. These assessments are most effective when they involve miners and miners’ representatives, because they are often most familiar with the conditions they face.
3. Identify measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19. This should include hazard removal, engineering controls, administrative controls, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other measures, prioritizing controls from most to least effective, to protect miners from COVID-19 hazards. Key examples, discussed in additional detail below, include:
- Minimize the hazard by separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people from the mine;
- Ensure miners complete isolation or quarantine as appropriate;
- Provide information and resources regarding COVID-19 vaccines;
- Implement physical distancing in communal work areas (e.g., limiting the number of miners on hoists, personnel carriers, or other transport vehicles at any one time);
- Suppress the spread of the hazard using face masks when respirators are not required;
- Improve ventilation;
- Use appropriate PPE to protect miners from exposure;
- Perform routine and enhanced cleaning and disinfection as appropriate.
4. Consider protections for miners at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices. People of any age who have certain underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Miners with disabilities may be legally entitled to reasonable accommodations (e.g., temporary reassignment to a less-populated work area or to duties with minimal in-person contact) that protect them from the risk of contracting COVID-19. Where feasible, operators should consider reasonable accommodations for certain miners identified as high-risk, such as Part 90 miners.
5. Educate and train miners on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand. Mine operators must communicate supportive policies clearly, frequently, in plain language that miners understand (including non-English language and other accessible communication methods, if applicable), and via multiple methods to miners, contractors, and any other individuals on site, as appropriate, to promote a safe and healthy mine. Communications should include:
- Basic facts about COVID-19, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing, use of face masks, and hand hygiene;
- Policies and procedures implemented to protect miners from COVID-19 hazards, including a method for miners to report COVID-19 symptoms, possible COVID-19 exposures, and possible COVID-19 hazards in the mine (and set forth in the operator’s COVID-19 prevention program); and
- Some means of tracking which miners have been informed and when.
In addition, ensure that miners understand their rights to a safe and healthful work environment, whom to contact with questions or concerns about safety and health, and their right to raise safety and health concerns free of retaliation. Ensure supervisors and managers are familiar with human resources policies and procedures.
6. Instruct miners who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Ensure that absence policies are flexible and non-punitive. Policies that directly or inadvertently encourage miners to come to work sick or when they have been exposed to COVID-19 are strongly discouraged because they increase the likelihood of COVID-19 exposures. Operators should consider implementing pre-shift screening for miners to complete prior to entering the mine setting.
7. Minimize negative impacts of quarantine and isolation on miners. While often not practicable in a mining setting, if possible, allow workers to work remotely when their job duties allow. If this is not possible, allow miners to use paid sick leave, if available, or consider implementing paid leave policies to reduce risk for everyone at the mine. The Tax Relief Act of 2020 provides certain employers 100% reimbursement through tax credits to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 through March 31, 2021.
8. Isolate miners who show symptoms at work. Miners who appear to have symptoms upon arrival at work or who develop symptoms during their work shift should immediately be separated from other miners, customers, and visitors, sent home, and encouraged to seek medical attention.
9. Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the mine setting. If someone who has been at the mining operation is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations. This can include:
- Closing areas used or occupied by the potentially infected person for enhanced cleaning;
- Opening outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area, where applicable, if feasible;
- Waiting as long as practicable before cleaning or disinfecting (24 hours is optimal);
- Cleaning and disinfecting all immediate work areas and equipment used by the potentially infected person, such as offices, bathrooms, shared tools or equipment, and tables or work surfaces.
- Vacuuming the space if needed and practicable. Use a vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, if available. Wait until the room or space is unoccupied to vacuum;
- Providing miners engaged in cleaning or disinfecting with appropriate disposable gloves. Additional PPE (e.g., safety glasses, goggles, aprons, respirators) might be required based on the cleaning/disinfectant products being used and whether there is a risk of splash. Cleaning products should be used in accordance with manufacturer’s guidance.
- After cleaning, disinfecting the surface with an appropriate EPA-registered disinfectant on List N: Disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19;
- MSHA’s Hazard Communication (HazCom) standards set forth in 30 CFR Part 47 remain applicable for hazard communication and PPE appropriate for exposure to cleaning chemicals.
Once the area has been appropriately disinfected, it can be opened for use. Miners who did not have close contact with the potentially infected person can return to the area immediately after disinfection.
If it has been more than 7 days since the infected person visited or used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routine cleaning and disinfection, as described above.
10. Provide guidance on screening and testing. Follow state or local guidance and priorities for screening and viral testing in mines. Testing may be arranged through a company’s occupational health provider or in consultation with the local or state health department. Operators should inform miners of testing requirements, if any, and availability of testing options. CDC has published strategies for consideration of incorporating viral testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, into COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control programs.
Note: Performing screening or health checks is not a replacement for other protective measures such as face masks and physical distancing. Asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild non-specific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may not be detected through screening.
11. Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths. Operators are responsible for recording work-related cases of COVID-19 illness on their Form 7000-1 if the following requirements are met: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is an occupational illness (as defined by 30 CFR 50.2(f)); and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Operators must follow the requirements in 30 CFR 50.20 and 50.20-1 when reporting. More information is available on MSHA’s website. Operators should also report outbreaks to health departments as required and support their contact tracing efforts.
Operators also may consider recording all worker cases of and exposures to COVID-19 in a separate log for contact-tracing and training purposes. Additional information about contact tracing may be available from local public health departments.
Of significant note: MSHA recommends that operators make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of information related to a miner’s COVID-19-positive status—even in cases where it may be obvious that a certain employee has tested positive or is in quarantine.
12. Implement protections from retaliation and an anonymous process for miners to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards. Under the provisions of Section 105(c)(1) of the Mine Act, miners, miners’ representatives, and applicants for employment are protected from retaliation for engaging in safety and/or health related activities, such as identifying health or safety hazards, asking for MSHA inspections, or refusing to engage in an unsafe act. This includes, for example, a miner, miners’ representative, or applicant for employment raising a concern about infection control related to COVID-19 to the operator, the operator’s agent, or miners’ representative.
In addition to notifying miners of their rights to a safe and healthful work environment, operators should ensure that miners know where and how to raise questions or concerns about safety and health, and that there are prohibitions against retaliation for raising safety and health concerns or engaging in other protected activities. Also consider using a hotline or other method for miners to voice concerns anonymously.
13. To the extent possible, consider making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees. Provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations. Operators may also consider permitting miners to attend vaccination appointments during their regularly scheduled shift to expedite the process.
14. Treat vaccinated miners the same as those who are not vaccinated: Miners who are vaccinated must continue to follow all protective measures, such as wearing a face mask and remaining physically distant. At this time, there is incomplete evidence about the ability of COVID-19 vaccines to prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person. The CDC explains that experts need to understand more about the protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines before changing the recommendation on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
15. Other applicable MSHA Standards: There are numerous health and safety standards that may be used to address COVID -19. Mine operators are required to abate the health and safety hazards addressed by the following standards:
- Sanitation requirements: 30 CFR 56.20003(a), 30 CFR 57.20003(a), 30 CFR 56.20008(b), 57.20008(b), 71.402 and 75.1712–3;
- Training requirements: 30 CFR 46.1-12, 48.3, 48.11; 48.23; and 48.31
- Workplace examinations: 30 CFR 56.18002, 57.18002, 77.1713, 75.360, .361, .362, .364;
- Safeguards: 30 U.S.C. 874(b) and 30 CFR 75.1403;
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): 30 CFR 56.15006, 57.15006, and 72.701.