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.”

Chief Administrative Law Judge issues order suspending hearings

Due to the risk posed by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, Stephen R. Henley, issued an Administrative Order and Notice, 2020-MIS-00006 (Chief ALJ March 19, 2020) suspending all hearings and procedural deadlines, with limited exceptions, through May 15, 2020. The order goes into effect on Monday, March 23, 2020.

According to the order, parties may petition the presiding administrative law judge (ALJ) to conduct a telephonic hearing based on compelling circumstances.

The moratorium on hearings does not include cases in which the parties have jointly agreed to a decision on the record based on stipulations of fact or a stipulated record.

All procedural deadlines in cased currently pending before the Office of Administrative Law Judges are suspended until May 15, 2020, unless otherwise ordered by the presiding ALJ.

The moratorium on procedural deadlines does not apply to cases not yet docketed so parties who need to file a request for a hearing before an ALJ must still file within the limitations period and may do so via mail.

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.

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.