Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for Mine Safety and Health, addressed members of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) at its convention March 5 in Las Vegas. Main covered a variety of topics, and noted that “the actions taken by MSHA and the mining community to improve mine safety and health” have put the industry “on a steady path of improvement.”
The first three quarters of 2013 saw the lowest fatal and injury rates and the fewest number of deaths, at 33, ever recorded in a fiscal year. However, the fourth quarter of 2013 did not follow that trend, and 15 miners, including nine in Metal and Nonmetal (MNM), died during that period for a total of 42 fatalities for the year, 22 in MNM and 20 in coal. This is an increase of six over 2012.
So far in 2014, there have been five mining fatalities, three in MNM mines. “While MSHA and the mining community have been moving mine safety in the right direction, the increase in fatalities in 2013 makes clear that we need to do more to protect our nation’s miners,” Main said.
MSHA has implemented several changes it believes has improved mine safety and health. A number of those including Rules to Live By began in 2010. “We have taken action to address consistency and improve compliance with MSHA’s standards.” Main said. “In addition, we have started health initiatives, such as the End Black Lung campaign and the 5002 initiative to protect MNM miners. We have enhanced enforcement with our impact inspection and Pattern of Violations (POV) programs and have engaged in extensive outreach and collaboration with our stakeholders. MSHA has also been active in protecting miners from safety discrimination, has reduced the backlog of contested citations and orders and has increased auditing of miner training sessions to ensure that miners are receiving required training.”
One of the issues Main addressed was concern from the industry about consistency in enforcement. “MSHA has invested heavily in training of MSHA staff,” Main said. “This includes training of field office supervisors. To date there have been three training sessions for MNM supervisors and MNM’s fourth round of training will take place in June. Working with stakeholders we have also implemented special initiatives to assist operators’ compliance with MSHA standards, such as Guarding I and Guarding II that provide information on compliance with MSHA’s guarding standards; the Fall Protection policy that uses OSHA’s 6-ft. rule as guidance; the new HazCom policy that recognizes OSHA standards; and our new Ladder guidance, rolled out on Feb. 5, 2014, with our stakeholders. I want to thank the NSSGA for working with MSHA to implement these initiatives including the recent pilots on the Ladder initiative.”
Main said that MSHA is also looking at better ways to improve training for miners. In 2013, MSHA audited 856 training sessions, the most ever audited according to MSHA records. “I believe these efforts are improving the quality of training and instruction for miners,” Main said. “MSHA EPD field staff has been meeting with aggregate associations and continues to assist small mine operators and miners on several matters, including the development of written safety and health programs. The vast majority of these mines are aggregate mines, producing sand and gravel and crushed stone.
“Let me share the results of some of the actions MSHA has undertaken,” he continued. “We are continuing to use our special emphasis enforcement measures, such as impact inspections conducted since 2010 and the revised Pattern of Violations (POV) process to improve health and safety at troubled mines. The good news is that we have not needed to use these tools as frequently as we did in the past, and statistics show the safety culture of mining is changing as evidenced by improved compliance with MSHA’s standards.”
Going forward, MSHA plans to continue its initiatives and identify other programs that will help it build upon the progress the agency said it has made.