By Ellen Smith
In a case of first impression, ALJ William Moran ruled Dec. 19 that a service truck bed is a “working place” and subject to the housekeeping rules of 30 CFR 56.20003, which requires that “working places, passageways, storerooms and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly.”
The case stems from a June 2011 inspection at a Lafarge Building Materials site in Georgia. The MSHA inspector examined the company’s Chevy C5500 service truck. Nothing was wrong with the truck, and the cab was clean, but the back of the truck bed had buckets, hoses, welding leads, ladders, chock blocks, chains, gas cans, a chainsaw, a sledgehammer, come-a-longs, a creeper and a compressor. The compressor was mounted on the truck bed behind the cab. The truck bed’s contents “were the sort of items that a worker might need during his work day.”
MSHA submitted a maintenance manual for the compressor, which stated the compressor had to have daily maintenance including checking the oil, lubricating the machine and draining the moisture, and this maintenance could only be performed from within the truck bed. This led the inspector to conclude that if a miner had to access the truck bed on a daily basis to check the compressor, the items in the back of the truck presented a slip, trip and fall hazard, addressed under the housekeeping standard of §56.20003.
ALJ Moran noted that the Review Commission and various courts have held that the Mine Act is a “remedial statute … with a humane purpose in view and is therefore entitled to a liberal construction.” In cases of close interpretation, safety standards are to be resolved in favor of furthering the goals of the Mine Act. To do this, Judge Moran first looked towards the definition of a “working place,” which under §56.2 is defined as “any place in or about a mine where work is being performed.”
While a truck bed does not usually come to mind as a typical working place, in this case the truck bed may be considered a working place because “work is being performed in the bed,” stated ALJ Moran. “Accessing the truck bed in any way – whether to retrieve tools or access a compressor – constitutes work under the broad definition of working place,” he continues. “Using the air compressor in the truck required that a worker enter the space of the truck bed to access it, an action that constitutes ‘work’ under any definition of that term.”
Judge Moran said that he credited the MSHA inspector’s testimony that the service truck traveled around the mine to conduct various jobs and that work was performed, at least in part, by having to access the truck bed.
“Completion of these tasks would have required accessing the cluttered truck bed, as workers would have needed to obtain items such as hoses, blocks, and the creeper. Furthermore, assuming that Lafarge would be performing the prescribed maintenance on the air compressor, a Lafarge worker would have needed to enter the truck's bed at least once a day. Therefore, the truck bed, as found, was a working place.”
The truck bed was not “clean and orderly and therefore ran afoul of the standard’s requirements,” Moran said.
In addition, Moran said that the conditions in the truck bed would have also violated §56.11001, which provides that “a safe means of access shall be provided and maintained to all working places.”
Because the case was one of first impression and the negligence was low, ALJ Moran lowered MSHA’s proposed penalty of $100 to $20.
Lafarge Building Materials, 12/19/2012,
Docket No. SE 2011-791M
30 CFR § 56.20003 Housekeeping.
At all mining operations
(a) Workplaces, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly;
(b) The floor of every workplace shall be maintained in a clean and, so far as possible, dry condition. Where wet processes are used, drainage shall be maintained, and false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing places shall be provided where practicable; and,
(c) Every floor, working place, and passageway shall be kept free from protruding nails, splinters, holes, or loose boards, as practicable.