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MSHA optimistic about ‘downward trend’ of fatalities, silica rule development

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Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration has recorded 70% fewer miner deaths through the first 10 weeks of 2024 than during the same period in 2022 and 2023.

Although agency head Chris Williamson calls the three industry fatalities MSHA observed through March 8 “three too many,” he’s optimistic about ongoing efforts to improve miner safety and health.

“I just want to ask everybody to continue to remain vigilant,” Williamson said during a March 11 call for industry stakeholders. “Let’s continue to work together. Let’s hope that the year continues on in sort of the same downward trend (in fatalities) that it started out.”

MSHA recorded 40 miner deaths last year, the highest total in the past nine years. Williamson said the development was “troubling to all of us,” but remains hopeful the mining community and MSHA can help mitigate miner fatalities.

A rule that would lower the agency’s permissible exposure limit to respirable crystalline silica is in the final stage of rulemaking after advancing from the proposed rule stage, as indicated in the Department of Labor’s Fall 2023 regulatory agenda – published Dec. 6.

Williamson said he couldn’t address whether the agency would meet its initial final rule publication target date of April but confirmed the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has conducted meetings under Executive Order 12866. This allows “any interested party to discuss issues” on rules under review, OIRA says.

“Our work to reduce miners’ exposure to silica continues to be an ongoing priority for the agency,” Williamson said. “There’s going to be plenty and plenty and plenty of opportunities to provide compliance assistance, education, training – all the things that MSHA has historically done on the silica rule in the same way that we’re doing right now with the surface mobile rule.”

To that end, the stakeholder call included a review of an MSHA final rule requiring mine operators to have a written safety program for mobile and powered haulage equipment “developed and updated with input from miners and their representatives.”

The rule went into effect Jan. 19, with enforcement set to begin on July 17. It applies to operators with six or more miners and covers equipment – excluding belt conveyors – at surface mines and surface areas of underground mines.

Patricia Silvey, deputy assistant secretary for operations at MSHA, said during the call that MSHA anticipated publishing a written-program template by mid-April.

Brian Goepfert, administrator of mine safety and health enforcement at the agency, said “many operators” nationwide already have programs in place.

“That’s good,” Goepfert said. “Word is getting out and people are getting their programs online.”

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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication