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The Mine Safety and Health Administration Has Had a Busy Summer. Here’s What You Need to Know.

By Mark S. Kuhar

On July 1, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) began enhanced enforcement of “Rules to Live By,” its initiative of standards commonly cited following mine deaths, as well as some standards for the coal industry.

Mine Safety and Health MSHA Update

“While we’ve seen progress in reducing mining deaths associated with Rules to Live By, mine operators need to conduct better site inspections and take appropriate action to improve compliance with these standards,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “That is why we are increasing attention on these critical standards. We urge the mining industry to do the same.”

An agency analysis of hundreds of U.S. mining fatalities in a 10-year period shows that fatalities associated with Rules to Live By standards have decreased an average of 23 percent, and significant and substantial citations and orders issued for violations of these standards have declined an average of 37 percent.

Since July 1, MSHA inspectors started to employ the agency’s web-based Rules to Live By more extensively to determine the number of citations and orders issued during the most recent completed inspection periods for which data are available.

Inspectors will provide mine operators with a copy of the results, encouraging them to use the tools to monitor their own compliance and take action to eliminate violations. The results will be added to criteria for consideration of impact inspections, particularly targeting mines with elevated noncompliance of these standards.

July Impact Inspections

MSHA announced that federal inspectors issued 161 citations during special impact inspections conducted at 11 coal mines and six metal and nonmetal mines in July.

MSHA conducted special impact inspections at mines in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Three aggregates operations were targeted and 28 citations issued. The three plants were Cemex’s FEC Quarry, Carmeuse Lime and Stone’s Buffington Plant, and Texas Crushed Stone’s Georgetown Quarry and Pit.

Monthly impact inspections began in force in April 2010 at mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns. Since then, MSHA inspectors have conducted 1,190 impact inspections and issued 16,590 citations, 1,317 orders and 60 safeguards.

MSHA recently added enhanced enforcement criteria to its impact inspection initiative, including “Rules to Live By” standards – which are commonly cited following mining deaths – and nine underground coal mine exam rule standards.

“MSHA has developed web tools for mine operators to better monitor these types of violations in order to improve compliance,” said Main. “Our inspectors are paying close attention to mines with high violations of these standards as well.”


MINER Act Anniversary

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration and Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, issued the following statement:

“In 2006, after the Sago, Aracoma and Darby mine tragedies that collectively claimed 19 lives, a bipartisan group in Congress came together to craft the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006. At that time, the MINER Act was the most significant mine safety legislation enacted in nearly 30 years – representing the first revisions to federal mine safety laws since 1977.

“The MINER Act improved mine safety and emergency response preparedness at our nation’s coal mines by increasing training, upgrading mining standards, improving mine emergency response and requiring enhanced technology underground for post-disaster communications.

“The act required the industry to have a cadre of better trained mine rescue teams ready to rescue coal miners when needed. Miners trapped in a disaster now have chambers in which to take refuge, directional lifelines to guide them out and increased caches of emergency air to keep them alive while emergency response teams put mandated mine emergency plans into action to locate and rescue them. In cases of mine accidents with multiple fatalities, the MINER Act established the role of a family liaison as a communications link to miners’ families while they await word about their loved ones.

“The changes did not stop there. In the past six years, MSHA has further enhanced mine emergency response and mine safety and health, by:

  • Developing new, advanced mine rescue communications and tracking systems to improve and streamline communications dramatically between the surface command center and underground mine rescue teams.
  • Establishing a new Mine Emergency Operations facility in Kentucky to serve the Midwest.
  • Creating the Holmes Mine Rescue Association to support and promote mine rescue in the U.S.
  • Expanding the family liaison program to include support in the event of any mining death.
  • Upgrading MSHA’s mine emergency mobile command centers and response equipment.
  • Adding upgraded skills training for mine rescue teams.

Since the MINER Act’s passage 10 years ago, the mining industry has seen profound changes. In fact, 2015 marked the safest year in mining history with the fewest number of mining deaths and the lowest fatality and injury rates ever recorded. Our work, however, continues. We remain focused on doing whatever we must to return miners to their loved ones – safe and healthy – after every shift.”


Comment Periods Extended

MSHA agreed to a longer comment period on two regulatory items. One proposed regulation would require workplace examinations before work begins and operators to document any hazards found, and the other is MSHA’s request for information on exposure to diesel exhaust in underground operations, according to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA).

Stakeholders’ perspective on the proposed workplace exams rule is due by Sept. 30. NSSGA is currently writing comments in opposition to the proposal’s key provisions as MSHA is requesting feedback on the effects of documenting hazards to see if it helps or hinders operators in avoiding safety violations. 

Currently, operators inspect work areas during shifts and address safety issues that are discovered accordingly. The safety record of the industry has improved steadily for 15 years, so as currently written, the proposed rule is seen by NSSGA as overly prescriptive. It will likely undercut operator ability to manage for safety and is duplicative. The proposal would also increase administrative tasks without requisite safety benefits.

Operators have until Nov. 30 to submit comments on a rule regarding worker exposure to diesel exhaust in underground operations. In June 2016, MSHA issued a request for information on the matter of underground workers’ exposure to diesel exhaust. NSSGA’s Safety and Health Subcommittee is developing comments for MSHA on this issue and invites operators to submit any comments or information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Tuesday, Nov. 1.

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, 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 Main. “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 particular alert

Mine Rescue Competition

A team from Carlsbad, N.M., beat out 35 teams from 16 states nationwide to finish first at the 2016 National Metal and Nonmetal Mine Rescue Contest in Reno, Nev. This year’s winner, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s “Blue Team,” held off second-place finisher, Vulcan Materials’ “Blue Team” from Bartlett, Ill., and Newmont Mining’s “Carlin Team” from Carlin, Nev., which rounded out the top three at the four-day event held in Reno, July 25-28.

Co-hosted by MSHA and the Nevada Mining Association, mine rescue competitions gauge the readiness of teams and their individual members – sharpening skills and testing their knowledge in a series of simulated emergency scenarios, such as a mine fire, explosion or roof collapse.

“We ask mine rescue teams to respond to some of our nation’s most difficult emergency situations,” said Main. “We owe them the best training, equipment and support to help teams of specially trained first responders operate effectively in a real mine emergency.”

Main noted that MSHA has devoted considerable attention to developing new mine emergency response systems with the latest mine rescue communications and tracking systems, as well as mapping and atmospheric monitoring equipment, to improve and streamline communications between the surface command centers and underground mine rescue teams. The agency has located these systems at four mine emergency operations sites in Madisonville, Ky.; Pittsburgh; Price, Utah; and Beckley, W.Va.

At the 2016 event, Newmont Mining Corp.’s “Carlin Team” from Elko, Nev., finished in first place in the first-aid competition. Top honors also went to Doe Run Co.’s “Gray Team” from Viburnum, Mo.; and Barrick Gold’s “Turquoise Ridge Regulators” from Golconda, Nev., in the technician team competitions; and Morton Salt’s “Team Texas” from Grand Saline, Texas, in the team trainer competition. Newmont Mining’s “Carlin Team” finished first in overall standings.

In the field competition, five-member teams are required to search and account for all missing miners following standard mine rescue procedures. The two-man technician team must ensure that multi-gas and self-contained breathing apparatuses are in proper working condition. In the first-aid competition, teams must be prepared to deal with medical emergency techniques, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and control of bleeding, as well as the treatment of physical shock, wounds, burns and musculoskeletal injuries. The team trainer test consists of multiple-choice and true-false questions.


FAA Ready for Drone Rule Avalanche

MSHA isn’t the only agency overseeing activity that impacts the aggregates industry. The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is bracing for major activity resulting from its first operational rules for routine commercial use of drones. The rule goes into effect Aug. 29. These new regulations work to harness new innovations safely, spur job growth, advance critical scientific research and save lives. More than 3,300 prospective operators are seeking FAA credentials, the agency said.

“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. The new rule offers safety regulations for unmanned aircraft drones weighing less than 55 lb. that are conducting non-hobbyist operations.

The rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight. Operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.

The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

Under the final rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. If qualifying under the latter provision, a pilot must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. The TSA will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

Operators are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA is not requiring small UAS to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.

Although the new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues in the use of drones, and the FAA does not regulate how UAS gather data on people or property, the FAA is acting to address privacy considerations in this area. The FAA strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.

As part of a privacy education campaign, the agency will provide all drone users with recommended privacy guidelines as part of the UAS registration process and through the FAA’s B4UFly mobile app

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research and advocacy nonprofit, is suing the FAA for “not including privacy provisions in its new rule” on small drones. In its lawsuit, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the center said that it has repeatedly tried to “ensure the FAA adequately addresses the privacy implications of drone deployment.”