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Fine Reduced From $8,000 to $800 for Guarding Violation 

A violation of § 56.14105 was upheld as significant and substantial, but was not due to a contractor’s unwarrantable failure to comply with the standard where a guard was partially put back into place with equipment running. MSHA’s proposed fine of $8,000 was reduced to $800.

The contractor, CR Meyer & Sons Co. Inc., works at Molycorp’s Mt. Pass Mine & Mill in San Bernardino County, Calif. The contractor was instructed to address a problem of an out-of-place guard on the top of agitator tanks that was found during an MSHA inspection.

When the inspector returned to the tank site, he saw two employees standing on scaffolding leaning over one of the tanks. He asked them if the agitator was locked out, and they replied “no.” The foreman said he had flipped a guard back into place, and he was going to tell Molycorp to shut down the agitator and lock it out so they could secure the guard with a bolt.

The inspector issued an S&S and unwarrantable failure violation, saying the two contractors should have locked out the agitator before reaching over the tank and flipping the guard back into place.

The inspector listed the violation as an unwarrantable failure, since one of the employees was a foreman, and he believed they should have contacted Molycorp personnel for instructions on how to shut down the tank.   

The foreman said he did not consider the act of flipping the guard back into place to be hazardous, or a violation of the standard requiring a lock out for repairs and maintenance, and viewed it more as a housekeeping issue.

However, the act of the foreman standing on the scaffolding and reaching over the tank to flip a guard in place while the agitator was running exposed him to the same hazard that the company was cited for to begin with, Judge Manning said.  The foreman’s “actions were meant to bring the agitator back into a safe state of repair by replacing the guard, an essential part to safe operation of the agitator ... [the] act of flipping the guard back into place amounted to repairs or maintenance.”

The violation was S&S since the contractors were only 14 in. to 2 ft. from the unguarded agitator, in which a worker could become entangled to have fingers severed, and there was a reasonable likelihood of injury.

The violation was not due to an unwarrantable failure to comply. Judge Manning noted the company’s safety record, and the MSHA inspector said the contractor was very good and had a good safety record.

The violation was viewed as “idiosyncratic in nature,” and the judge credited the foreman’s “honest belief that he did not expose himself when he flipped the guard back into position from where he was standing,” and his conduct was not aggravated or a result of the contractor’s unwarrantable failure to comply with § 56.14105.

CR MEYER & SONS CO. INC., 10/29/2015, WEST 2014-834-M; 22 MSHN D-2312

MSHA Issues Confined Space Alert

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has sent out a confined spaces alert.

“Unsafe work in confined spaces has led to miner deaths and injuries in the metal and nonmetal mining industry,” the alert read. “Recent tragic incidents include: a fatality while cleaning the inside of a tanker railcar and a miner being severely burned during maintenance of a baghouse screw hopper. To address these regrettable occurrences, special emphasis should be placed on enforcing MSHA standards related to entering bins, hoppers, silos, tanks and surge piles.”

MSHA recommends the following best practices:

  • Identify all possible confined spaces at a mine and associated hazards.
  • Post danger signs: “Confined Space Do Not Enter Permit Required.” Do not allow unauthorized entry.
  • Plan. Establish a written SOP that includes a permit to work and enter system, communication and emergency plan and train miners on the plan.
  • Identify authorized entrants.
  • Isolate the space. Assure energy sources are deenergized.
  • Conduct pre-entry testing. Test the internal atmosphere for oxygen content, flammable gases and vapor, and potential toxic air contaminants.
  • Continuously monitor areas where authorized entrants are working. Provide an early-warning system.
  • Do not enter an area that has less than 19.5 percent oxygen.
  • Assign an “attendant” – someone to maintain contact with the entrant while they are in the confined space.
  • Do NOT enter a confined space in an attempt to rescue a downed employee or co-worker without proper equipment and training.