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Confined-space deaths spur MSHA safety alert

Photo: msha.gov

Arlington, VA — Fatalities involving miners clearing material and obstructions in confined spaces have prompted the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue a safety alert.

Since 2017, three mine workers have died after being engulfed by falling material inside a sand and gravel bin, a sand-filled hopper, and a cone crusher, the agency states. In the most recent incident, which occurred in May, material inside a dredged sand and gravel bin fell and engulfed a miner as he cleared a blockage with a bar.

MSHA adds that since 2015, it has observed 11 similar incidents and issued 73 citations or orders under agency standards for materials storage and handling in surface and underground metal and nonmetal mines.


Among the agency’s best practices for working safely in confined spaces:

  • Ensure operators identify and eliminate or control all hazards before miners begin work and when clearing blocked material.
  • Follow proper lockout/tagout procedures: Never enter confined spaces until the supply and discharge equipment is locked out, and don’t lock out using the start-and-stop controls, which don’t disconnect power conductors.
  • Assign a safety harness and lanyard to each miner who may work at material supply or discharge areas or any areas where engulfment hazards may exist. Refrain from using lanyards that depend on free-fall speed to lock.
  • Place warning signs reading “Fall Protection Required Here” and “Confined Spaces-Engulfment Hazard” at all hopper, bin and chute access points.

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