MSHA Issues New COVID-19 Guidance for Aggregate Producers

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;
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:

Get free industry opioid training

The opioid crisis has been making headlines for years in the mainstream media. Less known, however, is its having within the aggregates industry. Research shows that extraction workers – which includes stone, sand and gravel workers – is the leading occupation of those who have died from prescription opioids, according to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). To learn more about the issue, read my article in Rock Products.

The topic of opioids is a difficult one to discuss with your employees, but help is available. Click here to access a free 45-minute training module, instructor’s guide, and participant handout designed for the stone, sand and gravel industry. It can be used in annual MSHA refresher training and meets the requirements of the health training section. Small producers may prefer a narrated version of the training, which can be found here. The training is compiled by Cora R. Roelofs, ScD, a research faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace.

Fatality Alert: Truck driver killed while attempting to adjust brakes with engine running

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), on Sept. 16, 2020, a truck driver at a New Jersey sand and gravel operation attempted to adjust the brakes on his tri-axle truck while the engine was running, the automatic transmission was in drive, and the parking brake was not set. The truck moved forward and fatally injured the victim. The fatality marks the 17th of 2020 and is classified as Powered Haulage.

MSHA offers the following best practices to prevent these types of accidents: 

  • Before exiting, place the transmission in park, set the parking brake, turn off the engine, and activate the hazard warning lights.
  • Block equipment against motion and place high visibility cones or other flagging or signage to caution oncoming traffic before working on equipment.
  • Maintain equipment braking systems and repair and adjustment as necessary.
  • Conduct pre-operational examinations using qualified personnel to identify and repair defects that may affect the safe operation of equipment before it is placed into service.
  • Train miners on site-specific hazards.

Fatality Alert: Material Shifts on Miner Clearing Crusher

On August 18, 2020, a miner was killed while attempting to clear a material blockage. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the miner entered the cone crusher to begin work when the material shifted and engulfed him. He was extracted from the crusher and taken to a hospital, where he died the next day. This fatality, the 13th of the year, was classified as “Fall of Material.”

MSHA suggests the following best practices:

  • Properly design chutes and crushers to prevent blockages. Install a heavy screen (grizzly) to control the size of material and prevent clogging.
  • Equip chutes with mechanical devices such as vibrating shakers or air cannons to loosen blockages, or provide other effective means of handling material, so miners are not exposed to entrapment hazards by falling or sliding material.
  • Establish and discuss policies and procedures for safely clearing crushers.
  • Train miners to recognize and safely remove all potential hazards before beginning work and when clearing blocked crushers.

Fatality Alert: Dragline falls into pond

On June 13, 2020, a dragline was found submerged in 25 feet of water where a miner had been using it to remove material from a pond. Divers attempted to locate the dragline operator, and after two days the dragline was extricated from the pond. The victim was recovered from the engine compartment behind the operator’s cab. The fatality, the ninth in 2020, was the second classified as “Machinery” related.

MSHA offers the following best practices to prevent these types of accidents: 

  • Maintain control of operating mobile equipment.
  • Keep all exits clear in cabs, including alternate and emergency exits, and make sure the doors open freely before beginning work.
  • Retrofit older models of equipment with current automatic braking systems.
  • Ensure all controls and brakes are set to the appropriate position for the task.

Fatality Alert: May fatality highlights the importance of lock-out/tag-out

The seventh metal/non-metal fatality of 2020 involved a “Material Handling” incident. Photo courtesy of MSHA.

On May 2, 2020, a miner entered a dredged sand and gravel bin through a lower access hatch to clear an obstruction. The miner was clearing the blockage with a bar when the material inside the bin fell and engulfed him. The accident marks the seventh fatality of the year and the second classified as material handling.

MSHA offers the following best practices to prevent these types of accidents: 

  1. Lock-out, tag-out. Never enter a bin until the supply and discharge equipment is locked out.
  2. Train miners to recognize and safely remove all potential hazards before beginning work and when clearing blocked hoppers.
  3. Equip bins with mechanical devices such as vibrating shakers or air cannons to loosen blockages, or provide other effective means of handling material so miners are not exposed to entrapment hazards by falling or sliding material.
  4. Follow manufacturer recommendations for clearing out blockages.
  5. Establish and discuss policies and procedures for safely clearing bins.
  6. Install a heavy screen (grizzly) to control the size of the material and prevent clogging.

Aggregates industry asserts itself as an essential business, focuses on worker protection

Martin Stone Co.

Throughout the nation, aggregate producers – like so many – are grappling with the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses and employees. Producers must navigate a business environment that changes not only daily, but, in some cases, hourly. New terminology such as social distancing and essential business are quickly affecting producers.

As an industry, we must continue to protect our workers, not only from a health and safety perspective, but also an economic one. Through recent days, numerous states and local governments have ordered millions of citizens to remain at home and not go to work unless providing “essential services.” The industry quickly responded, asserting its role as an essential business.

“It is imperative that the aggregates and construction industry are allowed to continue operations to perform the work necessary to build and maintain our nation’s infrastructure,” says NSSGA President & CEO Michael W. Johnson.  “State and local governments must include aggregate operations as essential to continue operation, as the aggregates industry is vital to improving public works projects that are essential for delivering much needed medical supplies, food and goods, clean water, and energy to the American people as we address this pandemic.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to President Trump urging his administration to issue guidance on quarantine and closure orders that clarify “essential infrastructure” and “essential businesses and services.” It says the federal government should recommend exemptions including, but not limited, public works construction, construction of housing, airport operations, water, sewer, gas, electrical, nuclear, oil refining and other critical energy services, roads and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, internet, and telecommunications systems “provided that they carry out those services or that work in compliance with social distancing requirements.”

NSSGA and 22 more associations echoed the Chamber’s sentiments in a letter of their own that was sent to President Trump; Steven Munichin, Secretary, Department of the Treasury; Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security; and governors across the United States.

An “essential business”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security considers transportation systems to be part of the critical infrastructure during COVID-19 but had not clarified – at the outset – how far down the supply chain that definition goes. This put state leaders in the position of determining what each state considered to be an essential business.

On Thursday, March 19, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order closing all non-essential businesses within the state. Aggregates operations were not initially included on the state’s list of essential businesses.

“We were very surprised to hear at 5 p.m. that we were to be closed by the Governor because we are ‘not life sustaining,'” says Rod Martin, president of Martin Stone Quarries and chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA). “Earlier in the week when they started with restrictions to help ‘flatten the curve,’ we were included on the list of ‘essential businesses.'”

It was soon all-hands on deck as state and national associations went to work to clarify the importance of aggregates role in building essential infrastructure.

Karen Hubacz-Kiley, chief operating officer of Bond Construction, emphasizes that – in the New England region – the aggregates industry provide materials necessary for the traction that improves safety of commuters traveling to hospitals, supermarkets, and other necessary businesses.

“Not including aggregates in the definition of essential businesses is short sighted and dangerous to the health and safety of those who must report to work,” she says. “With the mostly mild winter behind us, many cities and towns do not have a stockpile of aggregates should an emergency need arise for these materials.

“Nearly all individuals working in the aggregate business maintain more than 6 feet of separation as they are in different vehicles during processes that occur,” Hubacz-Kiley adds. “Aggregate operations can easily do their job and continue our necessary work while following all the CDC guidelines.”

Industry efforts were met with success on March 20 when Pennsylvania revised its list of essential businesses to include minerals production. Even more importantly, aggregate producers in other states will not face the same challenge: mineral production was recognized by the Department of Homeland Security as an essential business.

Protecting worker safety

As with other health and safety issues, their employees are of top concern for aggregates companies. They are focused on protecting their workers, even as they face the unique challenge presented by the coronavirus.

“The health and safety of our employees, customers, vendors, and communities is and always will be our top priority. During this time of concern, we are taking several precautionary steps to minimize staff contact while remaining accessible to all our partners. Temporarily, we are limiting non-employee visits to our offices unless it is critical in nature and has been approved in advance by a site manager,” says Darin Matson, Rogers Group Inc. president and CEO, in a statement on how the company is responding to the pandemic. “In addition, our sales teams and other customer-centric employees will only be visiting customer offices upon their specific request. This is to insure we create a business environment that protects the health of our employees and business partners, while offering the service and support you have grown to expect from Rogers Group.”

“Our employees have been encouraged to follow social distancing and personal hygiene recommendations. In addition, they have been instructed to stay home if they are sick, avoid non-essential travel, and avoid attending business-related events. We will continue to monitor this situation and take additional measures as needed,” Jaime Murguiro, president of CEMEX USA, says in a letter to customers.

“This is uncharted territory for all of us, and we all need to work diligently to protect our workers and customers,” says Bill Schmitz, vice president of quality control and sales at Gernatt Asphalt Products, Inc. “Keeping up to date with what other aggregate and hot-mix asphalt producers are doing is a great help.” Schmitz adds that the company’s management team is sharing information across the team via email. It is also posting best practices and notices at all plant entry points to stress working from a safe distance.

“Things are so dynamic that we are struggling to keep up as the mandates progress from federal, state, and local authorities,” he adds. “I am sure producers who operate across multiple state lines are struggling even more as the regulations are changing by the hour.”

“Martin Stone Quarries, as well as other operators, have taken additional steps like telling our employees they should not congregate in the break rooms, supplied employees with disinfectant spray for their vehicles, stopped accepting cash at our scales, eliminated the signing of tickets at our truck scales, and many more,” Martin notes.

While protecting their own employees, aggregate producers are also looking out for the communities in which they operate. For example, Winn Materials LLC, a StonePoint Materials Co., scoured its stocks and found excess boxes of N95 masks that it donated to the local Veterans Affair hospital.

“We recognize that these are unprecedented times for all of us,” the company posted on its LinkedIn page. “We at Winn Materials are committed to the health and safety of our team members, customers, our families, and our communities… It’s not much, but it’s something. We are all in this together. We at Winn Materials ask others to look for ways you can help in this time of need.”

Material handling accident triggers third fatality of the year

On Feb. 27, 2020, a miner died when an unsecured 20-foot x 8-foot x 1-inch steel plate standing on edge fell and struck him. The steel plate was being used to cover the end of a feeder to allow an equipment operator to build an earthen ramp to the feeder, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports. The material handling accident marks the third fatality of 2020.

MSHA recommends the following best practices

  • Establish and discuss safe work procedures before beginning work.
  • Identify and control all hazards.
  • Task train everyone on safe job procedures and to stay clear of suspended loads.
  • Require all workers to stay out of the fall path of heavy objects/materials that have the potential of becoming off-balance while in a raised position.
  • Monitor routinely to confirm safe work procedures are followed.
  • Be aware of your environment. Factors such as wind, snow, and icy surfaces can affect the stability of an object.
  • When securing an object, identify the location of its center of gravity.

U.S. mining fatalities drop in 2019

The 24 mining fatalities in the U.S. in 2019, represent the fewest annual fatalities every recorded, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports. In addition, 2019 marks only the fifth year in MSHA’s 43-year history that mining fatalities were below 30. MSHA is still reviewing two cases of possible chargeable fatalities which, if added would make the total in 2019 the second lowest number of fatalities ever recorded.

There were four deaths each in Kentucky and West Virginia; two each in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas; and one each in Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wyoming.

“The low number of mining deaths last year demonstrates that mine operators have become more proactive in eliminating safety hazards. But I believe we can do even better,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health David G. Zatezalo, in a press release. “A disproportionate number of mining deaths involved contractors, and we saw an uptick in electrocution accidents, with three deaths and another two close calls. In response, the Mine Safety and Health Administration launched a targeted compliance assistance effort, visiting thousands of mines to educate miners, operators, and contractors on procedures that could prevent accidents like these.”

After a two-year increase in 2017 and 2018, when about half of all deaths resulted from vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, failure to use a functioning seat belt, and conveyor belt accidents, MSHA responded with a multifaceted education campaign and initiated rulemaking. In 2019, the percentage of deaths caused by powered haulage accidents dropped to approximately 25 percent of all mining deaths.

MSHA collected 147,500 samples from coal and metal/non-metal mines in 2019, a record high. The data revealed an all-time low for average concentrations of respirable dust and respirable quartz in underground coal mines, and the exposure to dust and quartz for miners at the highest risk of overexposure hit all-time lows as well. Metal/non-metal mines achieved the second lowest average respirable dust and quartz concentrations since 2009. Metal/non-metal mines also achieved the second lowest average elemental carbon concentration and average total concentration since 2009.

Approximately 250,000 miners work in around 12,000 metal/non-metal mines in the U.S. and approximately 83,000 work in around 1,000 coal mines. In 2019, MSHA conducted 37,471 inspections at nearly 13,000 mines employing 330,000 miners, which resulted in 99,663 citations and orders. MSHA inspected all underground mines at least four times in 2019, and it inspected surface mines and facilities at least twice, as required by law.

MSHA releases final report on machinery fatality

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published the final report on a Nov. 16, 2019 fatality involving a contractor who stepped into the path of a bulldozer while spotting for a dump truck.

MSHA offers the following best practices to prevent these types of accidents: 

  1. Safety first. Before starting work, establish and discuss safe work procedures. Identify and control all hazards associated with the work and properly protect workers.
  2. Know where people are. Be aware of body positioning around equipment, traffic patterns, dump sites, and haul roads.
  3. Train miners and contractors on traffic controls, mobile equipment patterns, and other site-specific hazards.
  4. Stay alert. Do not place yourself in harm’s way.
  5. Communicate with mobile equipment operators and ensure they acknowledge your presence.
  6. Ensure travelways are clear before moving a vehicle or mobile equipment.
  7. Look behind you. Install “rear viewing” cameras or other collision warning systems on mobile equipment. When backing up, look over your shoulder to eliminate blind spots. When using mirrors, use all available mirrors.
  8. Wear reflective material while working around mobile equipment. Use flags, visible to equipment operators, to make miners and smaller vehicles more visible.