Regulator Says Mine Safety Improved in Past 5 Years

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main told members at the annual convention of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association in Baltimore today that mining industry improvements in the past five years have laid the foundation for better protections for miners. “We are seeing significant reductions in chronic violators, improved industry compliance, and successful implementation of standards in metal and nonmetal mining,” he said.

Main was quick to add that, while metal and nonmetal mining had historically low fatality and injury rates in 2011, 2012 and FY 2013, increases in metal and nonmetal deaths since October 2013 are a matter of great concern. MSHA is working closely with the industry to reverse this trend.$209 million settlement in West Virginia Coal Mine Blast

“The most important measure of our progress is how many miners go home at the end of each shift safe and healthy,” he said. Main noted that 42 miners died in mining accidents in 2014, with 16 deaths at coal mines, the lowest number ever recorded. At the same time, there were 26 deaths at metal and nonmetal mines in 2014, an increase from the previous year and part of a disturbing trend that saw 38 fatalities beginning in October 2013.

MSHA has responded to this spike in fatalities by stepping up enforcement focused on violations commonly associated with mining deaths. It also has intensified its outreach and education, including “walk and talks” with miners and operators and wide dissemination of best practices and other information. The agency’s coal inspectors and educational field personnel are engaged in this effort, as are many industry representatives.

To further address safety concerns, MSHA recently launched a new web tool for mine operators, miners, MSHA and others to track each mine’s compliance with the “Rules to Live By” standards which are frequently cited following mining deaths. The online tool automatically flags a mine’s violation rate if it exceeds the national average. Violations of the “Rules to Live By” standards were cited following many of the recent deaths at metal and nonmetal mines.

“During the past five years, we have worked hard at MSHA to retool mine safety and health,” Main said.

He shared the results of these actions:

Engagement with, and outreach to the mining community has been a central component of the agency’s approach, and this work with the NSSGA and other stakeholders has led to a number of mine safety improvements, noted Main. He and members of his staff regularly travel to see mine operations first hand and meet with industry stakeholders, miners and operators. The NSSGA has been an active participant in many of these meetings, including a roundtable last October hosted by Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. Discussion points at that meeting included safety and health issues and ways the department could assist the metal and nonmetal industry with its training, recruiting and employment needs.

Last month, the NSSGA participated in a stakeholder meeting to address additional ways to respond to the increased mine deaths.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor