Michael Peelish, Esq.
MSHA 3rd Quarter Stakeholder Meeting
As is normal, MSHA reviewed some of the fatal injuries that occurred between June 28th and October 20th which totaled ten (10) at all mines and highlighted the following in the categories noted: Mine Size - less than 20 employees contributed 50% of the fatal injuries; Experience at Mine - miners with less than 2 years’ experience contributed to 50% of the fatal injuries; and Experience at Task - miners with less than 2 years performing the task contributed to 50% of the fatal injuries. Contractors for the first time in a long time were not a focus of fatalities accounting for only 1 fatal injury (and one is too many) during this period. MSHA focused generally on the need for effective training to eliminate fatal injuries.
Fall protection was a major focus which is a carryover from the previous administration. While only one (again, and one is too many) of the 10 fatal injuries was caused by a fall to a lower level; MSHA shared numerous examples of near misses could have raised the number of fatal injuries very easily.
Greg Meikle, Chief Division of Health – Enforcement, provided summary percentage data for Coal and M/NM regarding silica overexposures by occupation/task, best practices for abatement, and a list of abatement measures taken. In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of this discussion was the list of abatement measures for dust overexposures and how MSHA is trying to track this data.
During the 3rd quarter, MSHA kicked off the Health Matters Campaign to focus on the “health” side of safety and health. Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson spoke passionately about miner “health awareness” and the need to focus on this aspect of mining especially in coal mining. The Assistant Secretary explained that a Part 90 miner outreach is underway with coal miners because MSHA knows the program is underutilized. This is likely due to the fear miners may have to exercising these rights. MSHA wants to provide information to all miners so they may make an informed decision, and especially younger coal miners since the NIOSH data shows that younger miners are getting sick quicker.
I would note that several numbers were tossed out by MSHA during the call without any support or scientific attribution. For instance, someone said that silica was 20 times more harmful than coal dust. This statement has been around a long time and derived from a math equation, not scientific studies. The coal standard was 2,000 micrograms and the silica standard is 100 micrograms, thus silica is 20 times more harmful. I believe that is the extent of the science. Also, someone from MSHA stated that miners can no longer work for 45 years and not expect to contract silicosis which is a broad statement but maybe applicable to only a few occupations.
The Assistant Secretary spoke about the priority areas to work on to improve the Part 90 coal miner program including awareness of the Part 90 miner program; assisting miners in making the decision to enter a Part 90 miner program; and provide assurances to the miner that he/she can exercise that right without fear of retaliation.
Also, when asked, the Assistant Secretary did not provide a projected date that the notice of proposed rule would be issued for respirable crystalline silica. Only several questions were taken and none of the submitted questions were read. My takeaway from the meeting is that MSHA is taking a big enforcement step into health, fall protection will get more attention, and training, training, training is the course of the day.
Congratulations to the MSHA mine rescue team won first place in the international competition!!