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‘We need to do something different’: MSHA stakeholder call focuses on improved training

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Arlington, VA — Seven of the 15 fatal on-the-job injuries among miners to date this year have involved workers with two years or less of experience, prompting the Mine Safety and Health Administration to remind employers of the importance of training.

Speaking June 9 during a virtual conference call for industry stakeholders, Sam Pierce, acting administrator for enforcement at MSHA, said the agency is troubled by the data.

“We feel like one fatality is too many,” Pierce said, “but when there’s 15, it’s telling us we need to do something different.”

Five of the fatalities involved workers with one year or less of experience at the activity. Surface and underground powered haulage (seven fatalities) and machinery (three) are the leading classifications in that category.

“As we look at these fatalities, what sticks out to me is decisions,” Tim Watkins, deputy administrator for enforcement at MSHA, said during the call. “The decisions that were made to do what they were doing at the time the accident happened. The best way to make good decisions is through training. If you’ve had the proper training, then you’re going to make proper decisions, recognize the hazards.

“Sometimes, we have people who lack the experience and training to recognize what is a hazard. Some people may look at things and say it’s not a hazard until it’s too late. We do recognize that we have lots of people out there working that they have training, but do they really have the in-depth training they need?”

The agency urges employers to train miners to:

  • Follow established policies and procedures.
  • Comply with MSHA-approved plans.
  • Recognize and eliminate hazards before beginning work.
  • Understand safe job procedures and tasks.
  • Use personal protective equipment.
  • Stay out of hoppers, cyclones and chutes.

On Jan. 13, MSHA announced that 29 miners died on the job in 2020, marking the sixth straight year the annual total has remained below 30. Although the agency reported a significant decrease in deaths related to powered haulage in 2020 – 21% of the overall total – fatalities involving the activity represent almost half of the miner fatalities thus far in 2021, a ratio similar to that observed in 2017 and 2018.

For that reason, Watkins said MSHA is “looking to reinvigorate” its powered haulage initiative introduced in 2018. “In the very near future,” he said, personnel from the agency’s educational and enforcement services will begin visiting mines to discuss best practices for incident prevention while distributing a new powered haulage sticker for miners as well as separate fliers covering powered haulage and rollover incidents.

MSHA offers numerous best practices for powered haulage.

For surface operations:

  • Always dump material in a safe location.
  • Always construct substantial berms as a visual indicator to prevent over travel.
  • Establish safe traffic patterns with proper signage.
  • Chock wheels or turn them into a bank when parking mobile equipment on a grade.

For underground operations:

  • Stop and sound an audible warning device before tramming equipment through ventilation curtains.
  • Look in the direction of travel and stay in the operator’s compartment while operating mobile equipment.
  • Install reflective signs or warning lights in low clearance areas.

For conveyors:

  • Design, install and maintain guards.
  • Lock and tag conveyors before performing work.

In other agency news, Jeannette Galanis, who on Feb. 1 was appointed acting assistant labor secretary for MSHA, said during the call that the agency still is awaiting President Joe Biden’s nomination for a permanent agency leader.

“We don’t have any information on the appointment process for the assistant secretary,” Galanis said.

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