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ALJ Uphold Penalties for ‘Travelway’ Violations

By Ellen Smith

Penalties of $1,526 were affirmed against Oil-Dri Corp. by Federal Mine Safety and ALJ Priscilla M. Rae for two citations at its Simpson Clay Mine in Georgia, where the ALJ had to determine whether certain areas were “travelways.”

The first area cited by MSHA was a concrete loading dock formerly used as a railcar loading position. The dock was measured to be 23 ft. in length and 4 ft. above the railroad tracks at ground level.

There is a water fountain and telephone call box to the south end of the open edge of the loading dock that MSHA felt supported a finding that it is an area designated for people to travel on foot. Forklifts also used the area to access the bridge that connects the two buildings. MSHA said that the unguarded condition could allow persons or vehicles to travel off the edge.

The ALJ agreed with MSHA that the area should be considered a travelway, and upheld MSHA’s S&S finding. ALJ Rae said under normal continued mining operations, it was reasonably likely that the unguarded edge posed a hazard of a person falling off the edge of the dock and suffering reasonably serious injuries.

However, because this mandatory standard pertains to a walkway used by pedestrians rather than mobile equipment, she would not take into consideration the likely injuries involving a forklift accident.

MSHA assessed the negligence as high, but Rae said the negligence was moderate. The docks had been inspected numerous times in the past by MSHA inspectors, none of whom had indicated the need for the chain or handrails across the raised deck. MSHA’s proposed fine of $1,026 was lowered to $500.

The ALJ upheld MSHA’s S&S findings for a violation of §56.11012 where an access ladder to the top of the corrugated bin located in a drier area did not have a safety chain or gate across the top of the handrails that surround the top of the bin deck. She also accused the company of “callous disregard for protecting the miners from danger.”

In this case, the company refuted the interpretation that the top of the ladder was a “travelway” or that an opening above, below or near a travelway existed.

The top rung of the ladder was approximately 1 ft. above the level of the bin deck. A person exiting the ladder onto the bin deck could potentially trip over the rung and fall onto the bin deck, or if backing onto the ladder, could trip backwards and fall down the ladder. The ladder was exposed to the elements thus increasing the potential for a slip and fall. A chain across the opening of the ladder would prevent such a fall.

The top of the bin was accessed every three to four weeks, and there is a work area above the corrugated bin where the head pulley and conveyor are located. It is accessed by a second higher ladder at the top of the bins which is a travel way and has a ladder with a chain across it.

The ALJ noted that the cited ladder was the way to go from the ground level to the corrugated bin top and also to the secondary ladder to the upper level where the conveyor head pulley was located.

It was used regularly, and there was an opening at the top of the travel way through which persons could fall.

The violation was upheld by ALJ Rae as S&S since under continued normal mining conditions a miner could trip, slip or lose his balance and fall, which would be reasonably likely to result in permanently disabling injuries or death due to the height involved.

It was the result of high negligence since the condition was openly and obviously a dangerous one, and Rae upheld MSHA’s penalty of $1,026 for the violation.

Ellen Smith is the owner of Legal Publication Services, publisher of Mine Safety & Health News, She has been covering mining issues since 1987 and has won 31 journalism awards for her reporting, including the 2010 Magnum Opus Award for Outstanding Achievement in Custom Media. Ellen can be reached at 585-721-3211, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..