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MSHA to Step Up Enforcement After Three Deaths

In the wake of a deadly day in mining on Aug. 3 in which three miners lost their lives in separate incidents in Nevada, North Dakota and Virginia, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is stepping up enforcement efforts and intensifying outreach and education nationwide.

In a conference call with industry stakeholders, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main expressed his concern over the alarming number of recent deaths. “In the past month alone, there have been five fatalities in the metal and nonmetal industry. Not since 2002 have three miners died in a single day in this mining sector. We cannot – we will not – accept this turn of events. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the miners who died in these tragic accidents,” said Main.

The following incidents all occurred on Aug. 3:

  • A loader operator was engulfed by a stockpile failure while standing outside his vehicle at a construction sand and gravel mine in North Dakota.
  • A miner at an underground gold ore operation in Nevada was killed when he was struck by mobile equipment.
  • An 18-year-old plant operator was buried under tons of sand and stone dust when a silo collapsed at a quarry in Virginia. MSHA has launched investigations into the causes of each of these fatalities.

Main announced that, beginning next week, the agency will begin beefed-up inspections with a focus on violations commonly associated with mining deaths, and federal inspectors will emphasize “walk and talks” with miners and operators to disseminate information on fatalities and best practices for preventing them. MSHA coal mine inspectors, along with training and educational field personnel, will be tapped to assist in the initiative.

“We will need everyone’s cooperation with these efforts to reverse the trend in mining deaths,” said Main. “Our miners deserve nothing less.”

In 2014, there were 29 deaths at metal and nonmetal mines and 15 to date this year. “MSHA inspectors will intensify their examination of the types of conditions leading to these deaths and take appropriate enforcement actions,” said Main.

“With respect to enforcement, increasing the frequency and quality of Department of Labor inspections is a valid tool toward improving mine safety," said Wes Roberts, a minerals and engineering consultant for the international law firm of Dorsey & Whitney. "However real worker safety awareness is sourced from well-trained and experienced front-line supervisors. Mine inspectors can only make 'spot checks' periodically of operations and their influence is primarily in issuing violation orders with little real interaction with workers. Front-line supervisors must know their people, the job they are asking them to do and the environment they are being exposed to on a daily basis which can vary a great deal from what a mine inspector might observe on a quarterly basis.”