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MSHA: ‘Work with us’ as powered haulage, other concerns persist

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Photo: Mine Safety and Health Administration

Arlington, VA — Officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration covered familiar ground Dec. 14 during a conference call for industry stakeholders.

The phrase “you’ve heard this from us before” or similar variations proved popular during the hourlong proceeding, and MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations Patricia Silvey reiterated that the reasoning was simple.

“It hits us hard when a miner’s life is lost because it’s felt not just here and it’s felt not just by the miner and the miner’s family, it’s felt in the community and beyond,” Silvey said. “So we’re asking you, just continue to work with us.

“Working together, we’ll get there.”

MSHA noted that five of the 10 fatal on-the-job injuries among miners from Oct. 1 to Dec. 13 involved powered haulage. Those include a Dec. 13 fatality in Liberty, TX, in which a customer truck driver standing in front of his haul truck was run over when the vehicle rolled forward.

Overall, 17 of the 37 miner fatalities reported by MSHA as of Dec. 15 involved powered haulage incidents.

In the Sept. 9 Federal Register, MSHA published a proposed rule that would require mine operators employing at least six miners to establish a written safety program for mobile and powered haulage equipment. Per the agency, a successful program would include actions mine operators could take to identify hazards and risks with the objective of mitigating incidents, injuries and fatalities related to surface mobile equipment.

Although the initial comment period ended Nov. 8, acting MSHA administrator Jeannette Galanis said during the call that the agency is slated to publish a notice reopening rulemaking for public comment and announcing a virtual public hearing on Jan. 11.

Further, on Nov. 1, the agency launched an enforcement initiative focused on powered haulage. Nancy Rooney, administrator of enforcement for MSHA, said the initiative has two components: targeted inspection and special emphasis.

Rooney said common violations to date include failure to guard moving machine parts; defects in equipment, machinery or tools; and failure to maintain audible warning devices.

MSHA provides multiple best practices for powered haulage.

Other agency matters addressed during the call:

  • MSHA is still awaiting confirmation of a permanent agency leader. President Joe Biden on Nov. 12 nominated Christopher Williamson, senior counsel to National Labor Relations Board Chair Lauren McFerran, for the post. “We don’t know when the Senate will schedule the nomination hearing, and we haven’t gotten any indication from them,” Galanis said.
  • In lieu of establishing an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 vaccination, testing and masking, agency officials continue to point to updated guidance – issued by MSHA in March – that advises mine operators at coal, metal and nonmetal mines to create a virus protection program or augment an existing one. “We’re in constant flux, and MSHA is going to follow the science on this,” Galanis said. “Mines were not included in the OSHA ETS for either masking or for the vaccine ETS mandate. So, we create our own mandates, our own ETSs. We have not created one around this, and we continue to monitor the situation and work directly with mine operators on our COVID guidance.”
  • A proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica is included in the Department of Labor’s regulatory agenda for Fall 2021, released Dec. 10. “MSHA is currently working on developing a new silica standard, as all of you know, to reduce miners’ exposure to respirable silica,” Galanis said, “and we’re also effectively addressing health concerns so that all miners are safe on the job.”

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