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MSHA taking action to tackle increase in miner deaths, agency head says

Christopher Williamson
Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — As a “troubling trend” of miner death continues, Mine Safety and Health Administration head Chris Williamson says the agency “is not going to sit by and watch the number grow.”

Speaking during an April 26 conference call for agency stakeholders, Williamson emphasized several MSHA initiatives amid a recent rise in miner deaths. As of April 25, MSHA had recorded 17 industry fatalities this year – more than half of the 29 observed by the agency in 2022.

Williamson pointed out the increased frequency with which MSHA has issued safety alerts and left on the table “additional appropriate enforcement, if necessary.” The administrator also discussed his April 14 letter to mining stakeholders, in which he announced the inaugural “Stand Down to Save Lives” day on May 17.

MSHA recorded 14 industry fatalities from Jan. 26 to April 26. Among those, 12 involved workers with two years or less experience at the mine. Eight of the miners had less than two years’ experience at the activity they were performing at the time of the incident.

Although MSHA requires worker training, Marcus Smith, chief of the agency’s Accident Investigations Division, said that deficient training “stands out to us frequently” during fatality investigations.

MSHA also found nine instances in which mine operators either didn’t conduct a required workplace examination or the examination was deemed inadequate.

Williamson also addressed MSHA’s long-awaited proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica. The April target date listed on the Department of Labor’s Fall 2022 regulatory agenda won’t be met, as the proposal remains under the interagency review process. “We’ll have more to say, more to share on that, hopefully, at some point in the near future,” Williamson said, “but that’s where it’s at. Obviously, we’ll have a lot to talk about once the proposed rule comes out. And really, as I’ve said over and over again, I want the entire mining community to read it and provide comment, and we’ll take those seriously as we continue to work through the rulemaking process.”

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