Preparing for MSHA’s “Take Time Save Lives” Campaign

MSHA Is Focusing On Task Training, So Let’s Look Quickly At What’s Required And What You Can Do To Comply.

By Brian Hendrix

MSHA recently announced its “Take Time Save Lives” campaign to “reach miners, promote best practice resources, and ensure mine operators have the tools they need to fully train miners to use equipment.” 

This new campaign is MSHA’s response to an “unacceptable trend” in “mining incidents.” MSHA believes that these “incidents” could have been prevented with proper training and attention to tasks.” Below, I’ll examine the trend or trends, look at what MSHA is aiming to accomplish with this new campaign, and offer some advice for avoiding enforcement issues related to the campaign. 

Let’s look at the trends (using MSHA’s data). In 2021, 37 miners were fatally injured at work, eight more than in 2020. To be clear, that’s 37 miners too high. We are all aiming for zero. What about the rates? The fatality rate in the mining industry last year was 0.0147. That’s 0.003 higher than the 0.0117 rate posted for 2020. It’s also 0.005 higher than the 10-year average. 

How about injuries? In 2020, the All Injury Rate for the mining industry was 1.84. That was a record, an all-time low. Unfortunately, the rate ticked up 0.04 in 2021 to 1.89. That’s still the second lowest rate ever, and it’s well below the ten-year average of 2.2.

If we graphed this data, we’d see the lines moving in the wrong direction, angling slightly up. That’s not what MSHA or any of us want. As lagging indicators, the All Injury and Fatality Rates speak to the effectiveness of what’s been done, not what we’re doing. We’re taught that leading indicators drive change, while lagging indicators measure effectiveness. Thus, this data doesn’t reveal the reasons for the change in the trajectory. Why were the Fatality and All Injury Rates higher in 2021 than in 2020? 

It seems that MSHA has settled on “training and attention to tasks” as the one answer to that question, particularly for powered haulage, roof and rib falls, fire suppression and prevention and lockout/tag out. In other words, MSHA wants the industry to focus on better and/or more task training. 

Does that make sense? Is more or more effective task training the way to reduce the trend we’re concerned about? Let’s look at the 10 fatalities that have occurred so far this year. It’s early, and the information we have about each is very limited. However, we know that the fatally injured miners were all experienced. 

They ranged from about two years of mining experience to 20 years, with an average of 10 years in mining. The tasks these miners were performing when they were fatally injured don’t appear to have been new to them: 

  • A continuous mining machine (CMM) operator was fatally injured when he was pinned between the remote controlled CMM and the coal rib. 
  • A front-end loader operator died when a large rock fell from the mine roof, crushing the cab of the front-end loader. 
  • A blaster died when a large tree fell from a highwall, striking the cab of the pick-up truck he was driving along a mine road.
  • A miner was replacing a belt conveyor roller inside a preparation plant and was fatally injured when he fell approximately 27 ft. to a concrete floor.
  • A miner was working under a dump truck to address a parking brake issue and was killed when the truck rolled onto or over him. 
  • A miner was fatally injured when the concrete mixing truck he was operating overturned, ejecting him from the vehicle.
  • A miner died when the lube truck she was driving fell approximately 60 ft. down a stope to the mine floor below. 
  • While tramming a single boom face drill to the surface, a miner was pinned between the drill and the coal rib. 
  • A miner was fatally injured when loose material from a brow along the mine rib fell and struck him. 
  • A miner was fatally injured when the bulldozer he was operating rolled down a steep slope.

No doubt, MSHA will allege that a lack of task training caused or contributed to one or more of these accidents. From the preliminary reports, I can’t say whether or how more or better task training could or would have prevented any of these tragic accidents. 

What I can say is that MSHA is focusing on task training, so let’s look quickly at what’s required and what you can do to comply. Part 48 requires mine operators to provide miners with training on the safety health aspects of their assigned tasks, including new tasks. For example, 30 C.F.R. § 48.27 provides that:

Miners assigned to new work tasks as mobile equipment operators, drilling machine operators, haulage and conveyor systems operators, ground control machine operators, AMS operators, and those in blasting operations shall not perform new work tasks in these categories until training . . . has been completed. This training shall not be required for miners who have been trained and who have demonstrated safe operating procedures for such new work tasks within 12 months preceding assignment. This training shall also not be required for miners who have performed the new work tasks and who have demonstrated safe operating procedures for such new work tasks within 12 months preceding assignment . . . [.]

A “task” is a “work assignment that includes duties of a job that occur on a regular basis and which requires physical abilities and job knowledge.” 30 C.F.R. § 47.2(f). That’s important to know because your Part 48 training plan must include:

(i) A complete list of task assignments to correspond with the definition of “task” in § 48.22(f) of this subpart B. 

(ii) The titles of personnel conducting the training for this section. 

(iii) The outline of training procedures used in training miners in those work assignments listed according to paragraph (c)(8)(i) of this section. 

(iv) The evaluation procedures used to determine the effectiveness of training under § 48.27 of this subpart B. To prepare MSHA’s new campaign, it makes sense to audit your compliance with Part 48’s task training requirements. A good place to start is the list of tasks in your MSHA-approved Part 48 plan. 

Is it comprehensive? Up-to-date? Do you have any new or “new-ish” mobile equipment on-site – powered haulage or other mobile equipment? If so, have all the miners who operate that equipment received training on it? Who trained them? How? Was it effective? A good audit will answer these and many other questions and leave you well prepared for MSHA’s new focus on task training.

Brian Hendrix is a partner at Husch Blackwell LLP. As a member of the Energy & Natural Resources group, he advises clients on environmental, health and safety law, with a focus on litigation, incident investigations, enforcement defense and regulatory compliance counseling. He can be reached at [email protected]

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