The summer is often a slow time for industry updates. Not so for the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) this year. From the results of their June impact inspections and the legacy of the Upper Big Branch explosion, to the discussions around a new proposed rule and their upcoming 40th anniversary, MSHA’s been keeping busy. Here are the highlights.
The Results Are In: June Impact Inspections
MSHA announced this week that it issued 114 citations during the month of June, as part of a series of special impact inspections conducted at 11 coal mines and six metal and nonmetal mines.
Impact inspections are specifically designed to target mines with a poor compliance history or compliance concerns. These types of inspections began back in April of 2010 following an overhaul of regulations designed to more closely examine mines with chronic violation records.
This overhaul was prompted by the 2010 Massey Energy Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 coal miners. Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship, reported to California prison in May 2016 to begin serving a one-year sentence.
Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, recently published a letter on MSHA’s website detailing the success of the regulatory reforms that resulted from this terrible accident, one of the worst in U.S. history. This includes a 54% drop in Significant and Substantial (S&S) violations among the top 200 mines in the country ranked by number of S&S issuances.
Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted more than 1,000 impact inspections and issued upwards of 16,000 citations.
Opposition to Proposed Workplace Exams Rule
MSHA is holding public hearings this summer for its newly proposed rule that would make changes to workplace examination requirements for metal and nonmetal mine operators. The National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSGGA) is opposing the new rule on a number of grounds, saying it focuses on the wrong targets and is not practical in real world conditions.
The rule has been designed by MSHA to enhance the quality of workplace examinations in metal and nonmetal mines. MSHA calls these workplace examinations “a fundamental accident prevention tool that allows mine operators to find and fix adverse conditions and violations of safety and health standards before they cause injury or death to miners.” Under their proposal, metal and nonmetal mine operators would be required to examine their facilities and fix problems before a shift begins. Currently, operators may examine mines during a shift, which as MSHA points out, allows for workers to already be active in unsafe conditions. The agency believes the rule will reduce risk and avoid future fatalities.
Some industry representatives disagree. They argue that human error is the cause of most mining accidents, and therefore MSHA’s rule focuses on the wrong targets. “This change would not benefit safety,” says Todd Ohlheiser, executive director of the Colorado Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. “Rather, it would simply give MSHA more ammunition for writing citations.”
There are real world considerations to take into account. Anne Kelhart, a safety director at Martin Stone Quarries’ mines, says that a full exam can sometimes take up to two hours, and that requiring examinations before the start of each shift means that at least some examinations will take place in the dark. Under these conditions, she says, even “the most competent person in the world can miss hazards.”
The last of four public hearings on MSHA’s proposed rule will be taking place August 4 in Birmingham, Alabama. NSSGA is developing formal comments to submit to MSHA. The comment period is set to expire September 6, 2016, however business groups are requesting this be extended.
A Big Anniversary
August 2016 will mark MSHA’s 40th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, the agency will be hosting a celebrating at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, West Virginia on Wednesday, August 17 at 1:30 pm. All are invited to attend either in person or virtually, and are able to RSVP online.
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