MSHA Issues Safety Alert for Drill Operators

Mine drill operators face their share of on-the-job risks. Failing to follow safe drilling practices can lead to fatal outcomes, as has been the case in recent years.

In April 2014, a 53-year-old miner died in an underground gold mine in Elko County, Nev., after his clothing caught in a jackleg drill. Less than two years earlier, a 30-year-old contract driller at a shale quarry in Ulster County, N.Y., died in November 2012, as he attempted to thread a new drill steel manually when the drill head rotated and entangled him.

In fact, at least seven workers died in metal and nonmetal mining accidents involving drills since 2002. For drill operators, the risk of entanglement in rotating machinery – that is difficult to guard properly – is a real danger.

To focus industry attention on safe drilling practices and the importance of well-maintained equipment, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a drill entanglement safety alert to the mining community on Aug. 10, 2016.

“Failing to follow safe drilling practices has tragic consequences as we’ve sadly seen,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

“Paying attention to safe job procedures, staying clear of rotating drill and augers, complying with drilling safety standards and following best practices will reduce the risk of death or injury.”

Mine drill operators often work alone and, at times, in locations away and removed from other miners, which adds to the job’s risks. MSHA urges drillers to consider the following before beginning drill operations:

  • Examine the drill and surrounding work area.
  • Eliminate all tripping hazards.
  • Do not wear loose-fitting or bulky clothing when working around drilling machinery.
  • Avoid using objects that could entangle in – and be thrown by – moving or rotating parts.
  • Stay clear of augers and drill stems in motion.
  • Never manually thread the drill steel while the drill head rotates.
  • Drill from a position with good footing and access to the controls.
  • Assure that machine controls and safety devices such as emergency shutdowns operate effectively.
  • Never nullify or bypass machine control safety equipment.
  • Place emergency shutdown devices – such as panic bars, slap bars, rope switches, two-handed controls – in easily accessible locations.

MSHA collaborates with industry representatives regularly to develop its monthly safety alerts. The Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers’ Safety Committee suggested this month’s alert.

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