Arlington, VA — Miner inexperience contributed significantly to what Mine Safety and Health Administration head Chris Williamson called an “unacceptable trend” of industry deaths in 2023.
MSHA recorded 40 miner deaths last year, the highest total in the past nine years. Around 3 out of 5 of the miners had spent less than two years at the mine, and half had less than 10 years of total mining experience.
The agency is calling on mine operators to reexamine their training – while acknowledging that federal training regulations carry specific minimal time frames.
“Does that mean the miner is adequately trained and fully ready to go in all cases at all times? Maybe, maybe not,” MSHA’s Brian Goepfert said during a Dec. 6 conference call for industry stakeholders.
“It’s an individual thing,” continued Goepfert, who is administrator of mine safety and health enforcement at the agency. “Miners of different generations learn by different means, and that’s where you really have to take a deep dive into each individual training plan at your mine and see if it’s effective.
“Is the message getting to the miner? Do they understand it? And can they demonstrate they understand it? That’s the key to training.”
MSHA reported 30 miner fatalities in 2022 after recording 38 in 2021, ending a six-year run in which fewer than 30 miners died on the job. At the time of the call, 14 of the 38 fatalities recorded by MSHA in 2023 were related to machinery, and 10 were attributed to powered haulage.
“This year, the mining industry has experienced a troubling increase in fatal mining accidents,” Williamson said. “As I explained in an open letter to the mining community earlier this year, MSHA is going to continue to use all its tools to combat this unacceptable trend.”
Williamson also addressed MSHA efforts to advance a long-awaited rule that would lower the agency’s permissible exposure limit to respirable crystalline silica.
Published Dec. 6, the Department of Labor’s Fall 2023 regulatory agenda indicated the rule has moved to the final stage from the proposed rule stage.
The rule would lower the permissible exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air – half the current limit – over an 8-hour time-weighted average. It also would increase silica sampling and enforcement at mines.
During the call, Williamson thanked people who provided comments during the proposed rule stage and attended any of MSHA’s three public hearings on the rule.
“At the end of the day – as the agency has said in the proposed rule and as I’ve said – the existing standards are not adequately protecting miners from silica,” Williamson said, “and we need to move forward on putting in place a more protective standard.”
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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication