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Placing Dewatering Pump Close to Highwall Edge Garners Penalty


A Missouri limestone operator was ordered to pay a $6,300 fine by FMSHRC Judge Margaret Miller for an S&S violation of §56.15005 after an MSHA inspector found a dewatering pump located within 4 ½ ft. from the edge of a highwall with a 70-ft. drop. MSHA claimed there was a danger of an employee falling off the edge if they were to retrieve the equipment.

 

The violation occurred at Bussen Quarries in St. Louis County, Mo. The standard requires safety belts and lines to be worn where there is a danger of falling.

The company was cited during a Dec. 2, 2014, inspection. The inspector found a portable pump on a wheeled cart with the cart handles pointed to the edge of the highwall, near the last row of drilled holes. No one was using the pump at the time, which was used to dewater the holes before setting the blasting charge.

Miners working in the area said the pump was placed in that location so it would be out of the way while they unloaded the powder truck. There were no signs or a line painted on the edge of the highwall, or other visual warnings such as signs, tape, cones, boulders or berms in place to warn miners when they are approaching the edge of the highwall.

Blasters said they relied on a measuring pole to place drilling holes 8 ft. from the edge, then worked near those holes so as not to cross within the 6-ft. limit.  

While fall protection was available in a nearby truck, the lead blaster believed it was not needed. He testified that at all times, including when he moved the pump out of the way to unload the truck, his feet remained on the far side of the blast holes, at least 8 ft. from the highwall edge. He also claimed he would not have used the pump in the position of 4 ½ ft. from the edge, and would not have crossed the 7-ft. line to retrieve it. 

Judge Miller said she agreed with the Secretary that the position of the pump together with the absence of any warnings near the edge created a danger of falling, and she did not credit the lead blaster’s testimony. There were a number of miners working in the area who would have also been exposed to the violation.

The judge noted that the standard is one of 13 priority standards listed by MSHA in its “Rules to Live By” initiative, and violations of §56.15005 contributed to 37 fatalities between 1990 and 1998, more than any other standard. Because it was a “Rules to Live By” violation, the company had effectively been placed “on notice,” and had resources available on ways in which to prevent these types of accidents. “Violating one of these standards is indicative of a significant lack of care,” Judge Miller said.

The violation was S&S with high negligence, and Judge Miller said had it not been for the MSHA inspector’s presence, the violative condition would have continued – especially given the fact that the lead blaster did not believe there was a violation.

The company said that its negligence was less than high because the lead blaster was an hourly employee, and had been trained in fall protection. While it was determined in the trial that Bussen Quarries has a policy requiring employees to stay 7 ft. back from the highwall, instead of the 6 ft. required by MSHA, and the company had conducted fall protection training nine months before the violation was found, the policies and training did not keep the lead blaster from placing the portable pump in such a location that it created a hazard to other miners.

The judge said she was “skeptical” that the miners would have stayed 6 to 7 ft. back from the highwall given the lack of visual warnings and the location of the pump, so she determined the negligence to be “high,” and upheld MSHA’s penalty of $6,300 for the one violation.

BUSSEN QUARRIES INC., 12/17/2015, FMSHRC(J) No. CENT 2015-385; 22 MSHN D-2498