Vol. 20, No.12

  • Accidents:
    • Electrician hurt in tip-over of 90-foot utility pole (346)
    • Propane explosion injures three (347)
    • Ground fall in Newmont’s Leeville gold mine is fourth since October (347)
    • Longwall operation hits second unmapped well this year (347)
  • Budget: Alternatives sought to MSHA state grants for miner training, DOL chief tells MSHN (348)
  • Combustible Materials: Commission upholds violations at Big Ridge (349)
  • Criminal Proceedings:
    • Manalapan managers sentenced to probation; company argues for smaller fine (350)
    • Auditor for mine labor company has assets seized after guilty plea (352)
  • Fatalities:
    • Fatality is fifth in 10 years at JWR #7 (353)
    • California Quarry Worker Fatally Hurt In Overturn of Haul Truck (353)
    • Three separate lock-out systems unused in Lhoist maintenance fatality (354)
    • No MSHA violations in death of coal miner hit by scoop (355)
  • Federal Tort Claims Act: Aracoma widows’ lawsuit formally reinstated by court (357)
  • Lifelines: Lifeline violations are S&S if escape can be delayed in an emergency, appeals court rules (357)
  • Private Suits: Family of Newmont tire contractor sues over ventilation-related fatality (358)
  • Review Commission: Chief ALJ refuses to extend filing deadlines where DOL cut attorneys (360)
  • Safeguards: Under 45-year “interim” system, inspectors still make transport rules mine-by-mine (361)
  • Review Commission Orders and ALJ Decisions (368)

Court Sides with MSHA on Lifeline S&S Finding

Failure to maintain adequate emergency lifelines in a mine’s escapeways is an S&S violation of the MINER Act’s life line requirement under §75.380(d)(7)(iv), according to a ruling handed down June 7 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The ruling upholds a Commission finding in favor of MSHA and the Commission’s interpretation of lifeline violations. The court agreed that a violation of the lifeline requirement is S&S if there could be a delayed escape in the event of an emergency.

The case stems from a December 2007 inspection of Cumberland Resources’ mine in Greene County, Pa. MSHA inspector Thomas Whitehair II found four areas in four days where lifelines throughout the mine were seven- to eight-feet from the mine floor, were hung above water lines, or ran in sections were the life lines would be difficult to follow because of various pieces of track equipment in the way. In the event of a mine emergency, the life lines would be difficult or impossible for a miner to reach.

The ALJ agreed with the company that there was not a likelihood of a fire or explosion, so the violation was not S&S.

However, the Commission disagreed, ruling that under the ALJ’s reasoning, a mine could have a completely ineffective escapeway system or none at all, but the violation would not be S&S unless the inspector found other conditions in the mine that are reasonably likely to cause a fire or explosion.

The appeals court upheld the Commission’s finding that evacuation standards are different than other standards because they are intended to apply meaningfully only when an emergency actually occurs, and escapeway equipment must be functional when a mining catastrophe occurs so miners can quickly escape.

The court stressed that “the stakes are much higher in emergency situations…. the hazard here is not a hypothetical mine fire – it is a delayed escape from one.”

Cumberland argued that miners would have been able to rely on using the water lines or cables for guidance in an emergency, or even follow the conveyor.

In rejecting that argument, the court said “the record demonstrates that miners are trained to use lifelines in emergencies, and thus, even if they did think to use the belt structure or the waterlines, they would still be delayed as they first attempted to find and use the lifeline.”

In addition, the court agreed with the MSHA inspector that because the waterline and belt structure lacked the lifeline’s required directional indicators, “it would be very easy [for miners] to become confused and maybe turn around and go the wrong direction, because it’s not going to tell them what direction they are going.”

Third, the court said “Cumberland’s argument ignores another lifesaving advantage an adequate lifeline would have over a cable or waterline: lifelines are designed to guide miners to alternative refuges, and waterlines and cables are not.

Cumberland Coal Resources LLP, 6/7/2013, CADC No. 11-1464 affirming 33 FMSHRC 2357

Vol. 20, No. 11

  • Accidents:
    • Supervisor pinned by machine in underground silver mine (313)
    • Haul truck fire at iron operation injures driver (314)
    • Highland 9 reports additional roof falls (315)
    • Injury rates decline in January through March (315)
  • Benefits: Judge sides with bankrupt Patriot in benefits cuts (316)
  • Equal Employment Opportunity: Court primarily sides with MSHA in EEO case (318)
  • Equipment Safety: Replace all missing or damaged cutter bits, MSHA warns (319)
  • Fatalities:
    • Second Exodus Gold miner dies by falling into open stope (319)
    • Confusion and Lack of supervision figured in roof fall death (320)
    • LaFarge manager fatally hurt by rock fall lacked relevant safety training (323)
    • Portable crusher operator settles fine from 2010 fatality, closes operation (324)
  • Inspections: Cement operation gets seven orders during impact inspection (325)
  • Mine Maps: ALJ says rulemaking or policy letter needed to deal with oil and gas borehole issue (327)
  • Mine Refuges: Refuge alternatives request for information goes to OMB (327)
  • Perspectives: Prohibition Against Advance Notice of MSHA Inspections, by Michael Heenan, Esq. (328)
  • Review Commission: William Althen slotted for commission post (329)
  • Review Commission Orders and ALJ Decisions (331)