MSHA cancels Program Policy Letter on escapeways

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced the cancellation of a proposed Program Policy Letter on escapeways and refuges in underground metal and non-metal mines.

The proposed Program Policy Letter was published in the Federal Register on July 29, 2019, (84 FR 36623) for public comment.  In October 2019, MSHA held a public stakeholder meeting to give the public additional opportunity to provide feedback.  After reviewing the comments, MSHA has determined that the proposed clarification is not needed.

The Notice of Cancellation can be viewed on May 26, 2020, at the Office of the Federal Register’s Public Inspection Desk.

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.

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.

NIOSH-MSHA to host dust partnership meeting

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) invite mining, public health and medical stakeholders to an inaugural meeting of the Respirable Mine Dust Partnership on Wednesday, Feb. 5, from 2-3 p.m. EST.

According to MSHA, the partnership will address exposures to a broad range of respirable hazards, including respirable crystalline silica (quartz). Some of the goals for this partnership include:

  • Reviewing existing literature and scientific studies regarding quartz exposure among miners;
  • Providing recommendations addressing shortcomings in the data; and
  • Identifying easily achievable recommendations that will have near-term benefits to reduce miners’ exposure to quartz and other respirable hazards.

The meeting will take place in the 7th floor West Conference Rooms at MSHA Headquarters, but participants may also join by phone. See details here. The agenda can be found here.

For more information, contact Sheila McConnell at mcconnell.sheila.a@dol.gov.

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.

Fatality Alert: Miner falls into portable loadout bin

The first metal/non-metal fatality of 2020 involved a “Fall of Person” incident. Photo courtesy of MSHA.

A miner fell into a portable loadout bin on Jan. 8, 2020, and died at the scene, according to a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) fatality alert. It was the first fatality of 2020 and is classified as a “Fall of Person” incident.

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

  1. Check handrails and gates. Ensure handrails and gates are substantially constructed, properly secured, and free of defects.
  2. Install mechanical flow-enhancing devices so workers do not have to enter a bin to start or maintain material flow.
  3. Don’t stand on material stored in bins. Material stored in a bin can bridge over the hopper outlet, creating a hidden void below the material surface.
  4. Lock-out, tag-out. Do not enter a bin until the supply and discharge equipment is locked out.
  5. Wear a safety belt or harness secured with a lanyard to an adequate anchor point before entering a bin. Station a second person near the anchor point to make sure there’s no slack in the fall protection system.
  6. Train all miners to recognize fall hazards and properly use fall protection.
  7. Provide safe access to all work places, and discuss and establish safe work procedures.

Additional Information: 

This is the first fatality reported in 2020, and the first fatality classified as “Fall of Person.”

MSHA increases civil monetary penalties

On Jan. 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor published a final rule in the Federal Register that increases Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) civil monetary penalties by 1.764 percent.

Name/DescriptionMine Act Citation2019 Minimum Penalty2019 Maximum Penalty2020 Minimum Penalty2020 Maximum Penalty
Regular Assessment30 CFR 100.3(a) $72,620 $73,901
Penalty Conversion Table30 CFR 100.3(g)$135$72,620$137$73,901
Minimum Penalty for any order issued under 104(d)(1) of the Mine Act30 CFR 100.4(a)$2,421 $2,464 
Minimum penalty for any order issued under 104(d)(2) of the Mine Act30 CFR 100.4(b)$4,840 $4,925 
Penalty for failure to provide timely notification under 103(j) of the Mine Act39 CFR 100.4(c)$6,052$72,620$6,159$73,901
Any operator who fails to correct a violation for which a citation or order was issued under 104(a) of the Mine Act30 CFR 100.5(c) $7,867 $8,006
Violation of mandatory safety standards related to smoking standards30 CFR 100.5(d) $332 $338
Flagrant violations under 110(b)(2) of the Mine Act30 CFR 100.5(e) $266,275 $270,972

MSHA publishes final rule for electronic detonators

On Jan. 14, 2020, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published a direct final rule to revise safety standards for explosives.  The rule updates existing provisions consistent with technological advancements involving electronic detonators at metal and non-metal mines.  A companion rule provides a procedural framework to finalize the rule if it receives enough adverse comments to withdraw the direct final rule. More information can be found at https://www.msha.gov/regulations/rulemaking.

Fatality Alert: Mechanic dies performing maintenance

MSHA issued a fatality alert regarding a lockout/tagout incident. Photo courtesy of MSHA.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a Fatality Alert for LafargeHolcim’s Holly Hill Facility in Orangeburg County, S.C. A contract maintenance mechanic was performing elevator maintenance when the car descended, crushing the mechanic against an elevator platform. The person died at the scene on Dec. 3, 2019.

MSHA offers the following best practices to help prevent this type of accident:

  1. De-energize, lock out and tag out, and block machinery or equipment that can injure miners – before entering the area.
  2. Post warning signs or barricades to keep miners out of areas where health or safety hazards exist.
  3. Install an audible alarm to warn of impending equipment movement.
  4. Evaluate and correct possible hazards promptly before working.
  5. Train personnel in safely using handrails and fall protection equipment during maintenance and construction activities. Ensure their use.

This is the 22nd fatality reported in 2019, and the seventh fatality classified as Machinery.