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MSHA Chief Addresses Concerns of Aggregates Associations

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main outlined to representatives of several Midwest state aggregates associations a number of important initiatives and reforms his agency has undertaken over the last two years.

Neal Merrifield, MSHA Metal/Non-Metal administrator, was also in attendance at the meeting held in Florence, Ky., along with the following MSHA district managers: Mike Davis (Southeast); Don Foster (Northeast); Eddie Lopez (South Central); and Steve Richetta (North Central). The meeting and outreach was hosted and led by Pat Jacomet, executive director, Ohio Industrial and Mineral Aggregates Association.

Main told the group that since his appointment in October 2009, he has placed MSHA on an aggressive path to improve overall conditions for miners. The disaster that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010, however, changed everything. “It unquestionably shook the very foundation of mine safety and health, and caused all of us to take a deeper look at the weaknesses in the safety net expected to protect the nation's miners,” said Main. “There has been an intense examination of that tragedy, and MSHA and the industry have undergone significant change as we have sought to find and fix deficiencies in mine safety and health.”

Main pointed to a number of specific improvements that have resulted from actions by MSHA:

  • In 2011, MSHA inspected approximately 14,170 mines and issued 157,613 citations and orders – an 8 percent decline in issuances from 2010, during which MSHA issued 170,909 citations and orders.
  • The number of significant and substantial, known as S&S, citations and orders (those contributing to a safety or health hazard that is likely to result in a reasonably serious injury or illness), dropped 12 percent from 2010 to 2011.
  • MSHA has increased its emphasis on health issues, including the need for mine operators to monitor their employees' exposure to harmful air contaminants by conducting dust, gas, mist and fume surveys to determine the adequacy of control measures.
  • In 2011, 37 miners died on the job, the second-lowest number since statistics first were recorded in 1900.

With a cautionary note, Main added, “We all know that one death is one too many, and mining deaths are preventable.”

Main also discussed changes and improvements in MSHA's Small Mine Consultation Program to make it more efficient and able to work more closely with state aggregate associations. “An important goal is to locate needed resources and help small mine operators understand and comply with the law,” Main said.

Finally, he outlined several initiatives in which MSHA, aggregate associations and other stakeholders have collaborated to advance the health and safety of miners related to guarding, fall protection, and improvements in enforcement consistency and compliance.

Rock Products magazine will feature an exclusive one-on-one interview with Main in an upcoming issue.