The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) launched the third phase of its Rules To Live By outreach and enforcement program on Jan. 31. With the launch, federal mine inspectors will soon refocus enforcement efforts on violations of 14 safety standards that MSHA says are commonly behind accidents and fatalities.
The third phase will put a greater emphasis on surface mining as 11 of the regulations relate to surface mining, agency director Joe Main said. The need to shift attention became clear late last year, Main said, when a string of accidents at surface mines caused five deaths in 41 days.
Although 2011 was the second-lowest year on record for fatalities, Main said surface mines accounted for two-thirds of the total.
Officials said 37 mine-related deaths were reported last year, including 12 at coal mines on the surface and 11 at metal and nonmetal surface mines. Only nine occurred at underground coal mines and five at underground metal or nonmetal mines.
In 2010, there were 48 mining deaths, including 29 men who died in the explosion of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal.
Although operators, inspectors and miners are working to reduce fatalities, “too many miners still lose their lives in preventable accidents,” Main said. “The loss of even one miner causes devastation and pain to the victim's family, friends and co-workers.”
Main said that starting April 1, MSHA will train inspectors to more carefully and consistently evaluate gravity and negligence when citing violations that caused or contributed to a death. That renewed focus could lead to tougher penalties and enforcement actions..
Training materials will also be available online for the industry and the public.
The federal agency will reach out directly to miners and their representative to make sure they have both input in the safe operation of their mines and the proper information to address any hazards they encounter, Main said.
At coal mines, inspectors will focus on: On-shift safety exams; operation and maintenance of machinery and equipment; performing work from a raised position; highwalls and pits; and the installation, operation, inspection and maintenance of loading and haulage equipment.
The agency says violations of those standards contributed to 75 deaths in the past decade.
At metal and nonmetal mines, the efforts will focus on rules related to: New task training, wall and slope stability; correction of hazardous conditions; life jackets and belts; and examination, correction and record-keeping of safety problems.
Violations of those standards led to 50 deaths in the past decade, MSHA said.