By James Sharpe
Like it or not, aggregate producers should begin preparing now for a new air contaminants enforcement program coming from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Concerned about harmful overexposures that could adversely affect the health of metal/non-metal miners, MSHA announced late last year that it would soon begin a push to enforce 56/57.5002. The standard requires operators to conduct dust, gas, mist and fume surveys as often as necessary to determine the adequacy of control measures. MSHA expects operators to pro-actively demonstrate compliance.
Radon, diesel particulate and noise are excluded because rules on these potential hazards are already in place, so the focus will be on other contaminants, such as respirable dust, calcium oxide, welding fumes and crystalline silica.
MSHA said it expects operator surveys to involve qualitative assessments or quantitative assessments or both. Maintenance of vehicles and ventilation, and dust-control systems as well as walk-through inspections count as qualitative surveys. Quantitative surveys involve taking actual measurements of contaminant levels and comparing the results to MSHA's permissible exposure limits.
Just performing surveys won't be enough. If a problem is found, you have to take action promptly to fix it. And you have to re-survey “as often as necessary” to assure your mine site remains a healthy place for miners to work. MSHA suggests re-surveys may be needed when any changes in the mining operation increase the potential for exposure. Examples include changes made to exposure control equipment, employee complaints about, say, excessive dust, or evidence of occupational illness.
In addition, not just anyone may do the surveys. The individuals involved must be properly trained; e.g., persons competent to check vehicle emission systems or dust control equipment.
As for enforcement, the standard does not require you to document surveys, so MSHA cannot cite you for not having documentation. However, having paperwork will help the inspector determine compliance. If you do decide to document and to make those documents available to the inspector, be sure any problems the surveys detect are fixed. If not, you have just documented yourself into a probable high-negligence citation for failing to take corrective action.
Expect a citation if the inspector finds no evidence you have done anything to comply with the standard. In addition, if the inspector conducts air monitoring and finds an overexposure, you likely will be cited for that overexposure. You may also get a second citation for failing to do surveys, since the overexposure implies they are not being carried out. Overexposures are presumptively S&S.
There are several ways aggregate operators can prepare for this latest enforcement initiative. Attend spring thaw seminars where the initiative is on the agenda. MSHA has prepared a training program for inspectors that it intends to make available to the mining community. Avail yourself of it. Take advantage of the additional compliance assistance the agency said it will offer to all producers, especially smaller ones.
Finally, consider sending your safety personnel to an MSHA-NSSGA noise and dust-monitoring workshop near you. The three-day training program is an excellent introduction to quantitative sampling for noise and silica and will help satisfy MSHA's concern about qualified individuals conducting surveys. In addition, anyone who successfully completes the program may borrow MSHA's sampling equipment for up to a year. You can arrange for a workshop through NSSGA, your state association, or by contacting the Mine Academy directly.
MSHA is serious about enforcing the standard, so you need to get serious, too. It will be far less expensive to comply than to pay fines for what could be elevated enforcement actions. Administrator Neal Merrifield has said this will not be a ‘gotcha’ enforcement program and that compliance is “not that difficult.”
The time to get on with it has come.