MSHA Proposes Rule on Workplace Examinations

MSHA announced the publication of a proposed rule to enhance the quality of workplace examinations in metal and nonmetal mines around the country.

From January 2010 through mid-December 2015, 122 miners died at metal and nonmetal mines. More than 60 percent of those deaths were linked to the “Rules to Live By” standards, violations of which are known to most frequently cause mining deaths. Sixty miners have died just since October 2013, the agency said.

“We believe that many of these fatalities could have been prevented with better working place examinations,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “MSHA has proactively provided notices to the mining industry on the need to improve mine site examinations, but now the time has come to require better, more effective examinations.”

Under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, mine operators have a responsibility to prevent the existence of conditions and practices that lead to injury, illness and death. “As evidenced by the fatalities at these mines, greater actions by mine operators are needed to find and fix hazards before miners get hurt or killed.” said Main. “Effective workplace examinations are critical to achieving that objective.”

The proposed rule would “strengthen and improve MSHA’s standards for metal and nonmetal working place examinations” by requiring that:

  • A competent person examine the working place before miners begin work in that location.
  • Mine operators promptly notify miners of any conditions that may adversely affect their safety or health.
  • A competent person sign and date the examination record before the end of each shift. The examination record must include a description of locations examined, conditions found and corrective actions taken.
  • Records must be made available for inspection by MSHA and miners’ representatives, and operators must provide a copy of the records upon request.

“The mining environment changes continuously, and that environment must be constantly monitored,” said Main. “Maintaining a record of adverse conditions found and corrective actions taken would help mine operators, miners and their representatives become more aware of dangerous and unhealthy conditions. These common-sense measures would also encourage operators to be more proactive in correcting these hazards before an accident, injury or fatality occurs.”

MSHA will hold four public hearings on its proposed rule in the summer of 2016 on July 19 in Salt Lake City; July 21 in Pittsburgh; July 26 in Arlington, Va.; and Aug. 4 in Birmingham, Ala.

The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) called upon MSHA to cease the regulatory burden on aggregates producers, not expand it.

“NSSGA has long been concerned that overly-strict workplace exam standards put excessive burdens on operators without any clear benefit to employee safety and health. Complying with this standard could in fact impede an operation’s ability to manage for safety,” said Pam Whitted, NSSGA senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs. “We have seen in recent years that safety improvements focused on improving behaviors of workers are more effective at reducing injuries than ones focused on workplace conditions. NSSGA will analyze this rule and provide comments to MSHA on the affects this will have on the industry.”

In the interests of facilitating a persuasive industry-wide response to the MSHA proposal before the Sept. 6 deadline, NSSGA will share comments drafted by the Safety and Health subcommittee with all members in time for them to submit additional comments to MSHA from their companies.

Additionally, MSHA issued a request for information for a possible future rulemaking on diesel exhaust in underground mines. NSSGA will work with operators of underground facilities to develop suitable comments to send to MSHA.

Additional compliance burdens will be placed on aggregates operators as a result of MSHA’s proposed rule on workplace exams (30 USC 56.18002) unveiled June 7 during a stakeholder meeting at the agency’s headquarters.

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