MSHA personnel will reach out next month to mine management and miners during inspections and other visits about best practices to follow while working alone, agency officials advised during a Tuesday conference call for training specialists and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, prospects appeared likely for at least a 2-month delay in enforcement of MSHA’s new final rule on safety examinations in metal and nonmetal mines.
Enforcement of Examination Rule May Be Postponed
The agency last month proposed delay of the effective date of its final rule on workplace examinations in metal and nonmetal mines that was issued Jan. 23. A postponement from May 23 to July 24 was proposed, based on an Executive Order from the White House, “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review.”
A comment period on the proposed extension closes Wednesday.
MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations and acting agency chief Patricia Silvey could not predict on the agency’s pending decision. “We got a lot of comments, trust me,” Silvey said, however, in response to a question.
No enforcement will take place before the final effective date, whatever the date turns out to be, Silvey emphasized.
The docket at the website Regulations.gov displayed more than 90 comments on the MSHA delay proposal, some of them filed anonymously. A number of commenters addressed the content of the standard rather than limiting their input to the proposed time extension.
The executive order created a freeze on new regulations “[i]n order to ensure that the President’s appointees or designees have the opportunity to review and new or pending regulations.” It was signed on Jan. 20 by Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff and assistant to the President. The order was filed with the Federal Register on Jan. 23 and published Jan. 24.
Among other provisions, the executive order directed that agencies to suspend effective dates of recently published rules for at least 60 days from the date of the order. “Where appropriate and as permitted by applicable law, you should consider proposing for notice and comment a rule to delay the effective date…beyond that 60-day period,” it stated.
The order also told agencies, “[Y]ou should consider potentially proposing further notice-and-comment rulemaking” in cases where “the effective date has been delayed in order to review questions of law, fact or policy.”
MSHA’s proposal to extend the effective date did not mention any issues of law, fact or policy but referenced the agency’s intention to “develop and distribute additional compliance assistance materials.”
Beside posting them on its website, the agency “would make these compliance assistance materials available at a number of information stakeholder meetings at various locations around the country,” the proposal stated. “MSHA also understands that mine operators may need time to adjust schedules, develop additional recordkeeping capacity, and in other ways modify the way they currently do business do comply with the rule.”
The proposal for delay also suggested that a longer postponement could be possible.
“As part of the outreach and compliance assistance process, MSHA would consider issues raised by stakeholders and consider further extending the effective date in order to determine is these issues can be reasonably addressed though compliance assistance and training,” the document stated.
Metal and nonmetal mine operators currently, under §56/57.180002, are required to have a competent person conduct a safety examination in each workplace at least once per shift. The new rule requires that these exams be done in each workplace before the start of work there, requires action to correct any hazards found, stipulates that miners must be informed about hazardous conditions affecting them, and requires more detailed recordkeeping. The rule was proposed in June 2016, with four public hearings held and a period for written comments extending through September.
Five Miners Working Alone Have Been Killed in 2017
Of eight miners fatally injured so far this year, five were at work out of sight and hearing of others, MSHA reported.
Accidents while working alone accounted for all three of the fatal injuries so far this year in metal and nonmetal mines.
Ronald Trich Jr., who worked in the underground Linwood limestone mine in Scott County, Iowa, was missed only when he failed to return home on the evening of Jan. 25 and his wife contacted mine officials. He was found early the next morning in an abandoned area beyond a barrier, where material had fallen in on him. Two employees who would normally have been monitoring the mine’s check-in and check-out system were both away from work that day, accident investigation program manager Larry Trainor revealed during the conference call.
Julio Flores, he independent owner-operator of an over-the-road transport, was fatally engulfed in sand as he raised the truck bed while standing at the rear of his vehicle on March 14 at the Trinity Materials Inc. Cottonwood #1204 sand and gravel pit in Kaufman County, Texas. Flores had previously approached the mine scales in the loaded truck. He was told to go back and dump the material so that the scale operator could determine the weight for the empty vehicle first. Flores was uncovered about an hour after being discovered missing.
Steve Justice died on a Friday evening, March 24, but his death was discovered only the next Monday morning. Justice, a crusher operator, lived on the property of the Black Rock Services Bonito Pit, a sand and gravel operation in Valencia County, N.M. Pinned by his own truck against a diesel generator, he was not immediately missed due to a gap in communication with a guard at the site, officials revealed. Apparently he had left the truck in gear when exiting he vehicle to shut off the generator.
Two of the five coal miners dying of on-the-job injuries so far in 2017 also were working in isolation.
Ray Hatfield Jr. became fatally entangled in a moving underground conveyor while working alone in an area won January Jan. 26 at the R & C Coal LLC #2 Mine in Pike County, Ky. Mine height in the area measured 2 feet 6 inches, according to a preliminary report. He was positioned between a guard and the belt drive when a roller caught him.
On Feb. 27, preparation plant attendant Jason Matthews reportedly was trying to repair a plate press used to squeeze water out of coal slurry when he slipped through a gap in a guard at the Chestnut Land Holdings Bishop Impoundment Area in McDowell County, W.Va. Matthews fell more than 18 feet and landed on a moving belt that held coal refuse. He was carried 55 feet and found lodged in a transfer chute, said Marcus Smith, chief of the coal mine accident investigation program.
Additional serious injuries have involved miners working out of sight and hearing of others. A welder, jumping off a ladder, fell and was impaled on a pry bar that someone else had left standing upright, Trainor said. At a coal mine, bulldozer operator sustained broken ribs when his machine rolled off a highwall edge, Smith reported.
Starting May 1, MSHA personnel will discuss safe practices for working alone as they visit mines for regular inspections and training purposes, said Marvin Lichtenfels, deputy administrator for metal and nonmetal mine safety and health. No extra inspections are planned and no changes are being made in existing MSHA rules that govern working alone, officials indicated.
In underground metal and nonmetal mines, §57.18025 specifies, “No employee shall be assigned, or allowed, or be required to perform work alone in any area where hazardous conditions exist that would endanger his safety unless his cries for help can be heard or he can be seen.” Governing surface mines and surface areas in the metal and nonmetal mining sector, §56/57.18020 states, “No employee shall be assigned, or allowed, or be required to perform work alone in any area where hazardous conditions exist that would endanger his safety unless he can communicate with others, can be heard, or can be seen.”
Coal mines do not have similar standards.
MSHA officials could not say to why the mining industry has seen this cluster of accidents that involved working alone, nor did they take issue with the practice itself.
Kevin Stricklin – currently acting MSHA administrator for metal and nonmetal mines as well as the regular MSHA administrator for the coal sector – said that whether miners need to work alone is “up to the operator. We just want everyone to be as safe as they can when they’re doing it.”
Best Practices Recommended By MSHA
For Mine Operators
• Make an assessment to determine if the task can be safely completed by a miner working alone.
• Provide training to assure the miner can safely complete the task while working alone.
• Provide the miner with clear direction regarding any limits to work that can be completed while working alone.
• Train miners to conduct risk assessments and encourage them to always conduct a risk assessment before work begins (SLAM RISKS). [“SLAM” stands for Stop, Look, Analyze, Manage.]
• Know where the miner will be at all times.
• Establish and follow routine communication procedures [for example, by radio].
• Account for miners working alone at intervals appropriate for the job assignment.
• Account for all miners at the end of each job assignment and at the end of each work shift.
For Miners Working Alone
• Think about the task: Do you have adequate training, knowledge, skills and equipment to do the job safely? Do you need help?
• Always inform a responsible person where you will be working and traveling in he mine
• Before beginning any task, identify hazards (SLAM RISKS).
• Can you correct or otherwise isolate the hazard(s)? If not, report the hazards to your supervisor.
• Always use the proper tools or equipment to do the job.
• Don’t take shortcuts, do the job safely.
• Follow established communication procedures.
• Use established check-in/check-out procedures to assure you are accounted for.
• Remember, it’s your safety! Protect it!