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  • Writer's pictureMichael Peelish, Esq.

MSHA Stakeholder Meeting – “Pleased, But Not Satisfied”

MSHA held its quarterly Stakeholder Meeting on September 17, 2020 and went through the familiar agenda. However, there was a message from Assistant Secretary Zatezalo that needs to be mentioned, “I am pleased but not satisfied” with the industry’s safety performance.

Regarding accidents and injuries, MSHA focused on fatal injuries involving fall from equipment. Since 2015, seven fatalities occurred while falling from equipment and 865 non-fatal days lost occurred while mounting and dismounting equipment which suggests that MSHA is focusing on the right tasks. MSHA has concluded the root cause of these accidents and injuries is safe access/egress to equipment, failure to use fall protection PPE, inadequate oversight, and inadequate training.

Several interesting points were made by MSHA regarding these accidents and injuries. Older miners are at higher risk when mounting and dismounting equipment, with 6 of the 7 fatalities occurring to miners over 50 years of age. MSHA has opined that grip strength and flexibility generally decrease with age and that older miners are at risk when using access systems that rely on grip strength flexibility. The second point is that supervisors are accounting for greater percentage of fatalities which concerns MSHA since these are the folks that need to set the right safety example.

Timothy Watkins, Administrator for Mine Safety and Health Enforcement, noted that MSHA has had success with other initiatives such as the powered haulage and electrical to reduce accidents and injuries. Based on this approach, Mr. Watkins stated that MSHA has a new initiative/emphasis program addressing fall from heights. He further stated that MSHA has issued over 72 imminent danger orders to operators for fall protection violations over the last 18 months. The education and policy group provided a review of the resources MSHA has available for mine operators with a focus on fall protection.

Fall accidents and injuries are not easy for mine operators to address. For instance, as it involves truck tarping, there are engineering controls such as safe racks, tethers, platforms, or mobile platforms that operators can deploy. While these are good solutions, they are not always implemented even when made available. That is where mine operators have to do a better job of training and oversight of the fall protection standards with its employees and contractors.

MSHA is moving forward even through the Covid pandemic:

· 248 mines out of almost 13,000 mines have reported a Covid positive.

· The Agency’s review of its program policy manual is ongoing and will combine 29 manuals to 14 manuals with more guidance versus restatement of the regulations.

· A respirable quartz standard will not be issued this year.

To a question from the audience, MSHA noted that since January 2018, there have been 9,170 citations conferenced evenly distributed between coal and metal/non-metal. A breakdown of results is 62% are upheld; 29% modified; and 10% vacated.

Over my 30 years in this industry, MSHA appears to be functioning organizationally as well as I can remember. Under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Zatezalo, MSHA is seeing the results of focused efforts. Just to repeat, “Pleased, But Not Satisfied.”

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