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Tales from DC: May 5 MSHA Stakeholder Meeting

Posted in on Fri, May 23, 2014

From the Law Offices of Adele Abrams, Esq. –

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) convened a stakeholder meeting on May 5, 2014 to discuss trends in mine-related metal/non-metal fatalities since October 2013. Joe Main stated that these fatalities are an unacceptable trend that needs to be reversed. He did not take the position of Assistant Secretary to have this type of record. All District Offices were present via video conferencing and the attendance was over fifty individuals at headquarters. Although there was a lull in early 2014, recent months have reflected increased fatalities. According to MSHA, the overall findings suggest 1) lack of quality task training, 2) failure of adequate workplace examinations, and 3) flaws in mine safety programs.

MSHA’s first concern is the increase in fatalities. Although mining is much safer today than forty years ago, MSHA’s goal is zero fatalities. According to Joe Main, miners should be able to come home safe and health. Since fatalities stop miners from coming home, MSHA will be making changes. Calendar year 2011 was the safest year on record, followed by 2012, and then followed by “fiscal year” 2013. However, as the fiscal year ended on September 30, 2013, the number of fatalities started to grow.

Neil Merrifield started the formal presentation with a call to operators to perform data mining. Data mining specific information about a mine site can be a valuable tool to assess past issues and project future problems. MSHA’s assessment of the fatality trend discovered the following facts:

  • 19 fatalities occurred between October 2013 and May 4, 2014.
  • Seasonal activities do not appear to be a factor in these fatalities.
  • A fatality has occurred almost every month.
  • Six of the 19 were underground, which is a new trend.
  • Four contractors died, which is a new trend.
  • Deaths related to explosives increased with three occurring. MSHA though explosives safety was well-understood and this trend would not be seen.
  • Six supervisors have been killed, including a mine owner.
  • Size of mine does not appear to be a trend factor.
  • Experience in mining industry does not appear to be a trend factor.
  • Experience at the subject mine is a trend factor. Those newer to the particular mine site faced fatality.
  • Experience at task involved with fatality appears as trend.

There were several items MSHA discussed as lessons for operators:

  • First, for contractors, safety is a major concern. Operators are using contract labor more than ever and contractors must be part of the operator’s safety program.
  • Second, supervisors need to be role models. Safety starts at the top and miners will learn from example. If the people responsible for safety are putting themselves at risk, they are not setting a proper example.
  • Third, training needs to be thorough and good. Miners need training on all jobs performed. The May fatality involved the mine owner putting signs up while driving a four-wheeler. It flipped and killed him. MSHA considers this a teachable instance where proper training on the use of the ATV would have prevented the accident.
  • Fourth, findings indicate that workplace examinations are not being performed appropriately.

According to MSHA, from moral obligation, there is no difference between coal and metal/non-metal for inspecting workplaces. The implication appeared to be that coal workplace examinations are more stringent, and that metal/non-metal needs to take more responsibility for area inspections.

On an unrelated matter, MSHA pointed out that in several of these fatalities; the operator did not provide MSHA with either a thorough or correct assessment of the incident. This led MSHA to believe in many cases that the fatality was due to natural causes. Operators were reminded to give all details to MSHA. It is MSHA’s job to determine the cause. MSHA also discussed many of the 19 fatalities in detail. This information can be found via a PowerPoint on the MSHA website.

The conclusions drawn by MSHA included several root causes: task training, workplace examinations, lock-out/tag-out, pre-operational checks, maintenance of mobile equipment, distribution and use of PPE.

MSHA held a question and answer session. From the questions, MSHA provided additional information:

  • First, all trainers will receive a first quarter summary of the fatalities. There are about 5,000 trainers listed.
  • As to additional funds, for training, Joe Main stated that regardless of who pays for training (grants or corporate funds), the operator must ensure the training meets quality standards. Operators should build better programs, involve all employees.
  • Spring thaws will continue and a hazard alert will be issued about fatalities and trends.
  • On fall safety, although MSHA has adopted OSHA’s six foot rule in theory, if there is a risk of fall with injury, measures must be taken to eliminate hazard from any height.

Lastly, Joe Main announced the merger of the small mines program with the education policy and development. The goal is to cross-train all employees in these programs to provide small operators with more assistance. It will be implemented by June 29, 2014.

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