MSHA ‘actively working’ on a proposed rule on silica, Williamson says

Original article published by Safety + Health
Christopher-Williamson.jpg
Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration is “actively working” toward publishing a proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica, agency administrator Chris Williamson said Oct. 20.

The Department of Labor’s Spring 2022 regulatory agenda – published in June – showed MSHA’s intent to publish in September a notice of proposed rulemaking on silica. During a conference call for agency stakeholders, Williamson didn’t offer an updated timetable during the call but said the rule “is one of the top priorities” at the agency.

“Right now in this country, there’s only one worker population that does not have a certain level of protection when it comes to silica, and that is miners. Right now, under our existing standards, the permissible exposure limit (100 micrograms per cubic meter of air) is double what every other worker in this country has. So I just want to put that out there, that people know that’s the reality. We’re working very hard on an improved health standard that we think will make a difference and will definitely better protect miners.”

During the call, MSHA Chief of Health Gregory Meikle cited NIOSH-supported data that contends silica dust can be up to 20 times more toxic than other dusts. Meikle called on stakeholders to tailor existing best practices toward their individual mines and mine activities.

“Some of the levels we’re seeing on overexposures, we’ve got to get proactive if we’re going to protect miners,” Meikle said.


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

Preventing and addressing health impacts in the mining community

Original article published by MSHA

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) works to prevent mining injuries, illnesses and fatalities, and promote safe and healthful workplaces for all U.S. miners. The agency name and its mission statement make clear that protecting both miners’ safety and health must be a priority.

At MSHA, we take seriously our mandate to conduct inspections; investigate hazard complaints; offer education, training, and compliance assistance; and work together with labor and mine operators to correct safety hazards and prevent accidents. When a near miss or accident occurs, those are visible events that easily capture one’s attention and quickly lead to efforts to focus on safety. However, health hazards that can make miners sick are harder to identify, analyze and address. Moreover, some of the worst occupational illnesses  such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung disease), silicosis and cancer  develop over time based on miners’ exposure levels and other environmental factors.

 

Miners Health Matters Mine safety and Health logo
Photo property of MSHA 
Through the Miner Health Matters campaign, MSHA will conduct enforcement and outreach efforts to ensure miners working in potentially dangerous mining environments take proper precautions to limit exposures to silica and other dangerous toxins. And MSHA personnel will continue to directly communicate with miners about their rights and the importance of protecting their health whenever we have the opportunity.

Health-Focused Initiatives:

  • Under 30 Code of Federal Regulations Part 90, coal miners who have already developed pneumoconiosis can exercise rights that allow them to continue working in healthier parts of the mine. MSHA will work to reduce barriers that may prevent coal miners from choosing to exercise their Part 90 rights.
  • MSHA will publish a proposed rule to better protect all miners from exposure to respirable crystalline silica and to update the existing respiratory protection standards.
  • In June 2022, we announced a Silica Enforcement Initiative to better protect miners from health hazards related to repeated overexposures of silica. The initiative includes inspections, sampling, compliance assistance and direct conversations with miners about their rights to report health hazards.
  • Protecting miners from the risks associated with COVID-19 is especially difficult in underground mines and places where miners were traveling and working closely and without adequate ventilation. MSHA has developed coronavirus guidance and hosted vaccine clinics for miners and their families. These clinics have also provided hundreds of masks and COVID tests in mining communities.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, signed into law by President Biden on Aug. 16, helped to secure federal black lung benefits for miners with black lung disease and their families. Generations of coal miners who sacrificed so much to power our country can rest assured that their benefits are not in jeopardy. If a miner or other beneficiary has questions about benefits through the federal Black Lung program, beneficiaries can call the Department of Labor at 800-347-2502 or email DCMWC-public@dol.gov.

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

U.S. DOL launches black lung regulations awareness initiative

Original article published by MSHA

Initiative emphasizes miners’ health, protection of rights as workers
 

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced an effort to raise awareness of regulations that give coal miners with development of pneumoconiosis, or black lung, the right to work at a section of a mine with lower levels of dust without having their pay reduced or fearing discrimination or termination.

Part 90 of the Title 30 Code of Federal Regulations protects miners diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by inhaling dust. The regulation applies to all miners at the nation’s surface and underground coal mines, including loadout facilities and preparation plants.

The department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is launching its Part 90 educational initiative to inform these workers of their eligibility for free medical exams if they believe they have black lung. Mine operators will pay for the exams, which will be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. If diagnosed, miners with black lung have the right to work in a section of a mine with low dust levels.

The Part 90 initiative is part of MSHA’s broader “Miner Health Matters” campaign to ensure that miners’ health is considered as important as miners’ safety. In addition to raising awareness, the campaign includes enforcement and outreach efforts to ensure miners working in potentially dangerous environments take proper precautions to limit exposures to silica and other dangerous toxins.

“The U.S. Department of Labor is showing that Miner Health Matters by helping the nation’s miners protect their health,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Christopher J. Williamson. “This initiative will help make sure mining industry workers know their rights and how to exercise them to reduce their exposure to the dangers of high levels of coal dust.”

To make information easily accessible, MSHA has updated its web site to highlight miners’ rights to protect their health and to understand and use the Part 90 program.

Assistant Secretary Williamson will discuss the Part 90 program and other efforts to protect miners on Sept. 30 at the 2022 conference of the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics in St. Louis.

Read Assistant Secretary Williamson’s blog about how MSHA is working to protect miners’ health.


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA Emergency Unit wins world championship at international competition testing mine rescue skills

First published by MSHA

Event challenged teams from North and South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration’s “Mine Emergency Unit” bested competitors from around the world and finished first at the International Mines Rescue Competition, held Sept. 11-16, 2022, in Beaver, West Virginia.

After a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, the biennial event resumed at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy where highly skilled teams from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Colombia, Finland, India, Poland and Zambia competed.

The competition included knowledge and skills challenges based on emergency scenarios, including mine fires and roof collapses. During the events, teams simulated rescues, fighting fires, high-angle rope rescue, first aid, team theory, and technical and team skills. In addition to testing understanding and abilities, the event provides comprehensive learning opportunities for teams to develop greater mine rescue skills and maintain response readiness.

“Mine rescues competitions are demanding tests for highly trained first responders who may face mine emergencies,” explained Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “These events help prepare mine rescuers and ensure that first responders remain safe even as they selflessly risk their lives to save others.”

Among the event’s top finishers were Consol Energy’s “Bailey Blue Team” from Pittsburgh, Doe Run Company’s “Maroon Team” from St. Louis, and Genesis Alkali’s “Blue Team” from Green River, Wyoming. In all, this year’s competition included four teams from the U.S.; five from Canada; three teams from Australia, India, and Zambia; two from Colombia; and one each from Poland and Finland.

“The employees of the Mine Safety and Health Administration are dedicated to supporting the commitment and sacrifice of mine rescuers,” Assistant Secretary Williamson added. “We are very proud that our own Mine Rescue Unit has been recognized as the world champion, and look forward to defending our crown in Colombia in 2024.”

This marks the second time the MSHA MEU Team has finished in the top spot. The MSHA team previously won the first International Mines Rescue Competition in Louisville, Kentucky in 1999. The contest began following the 1998 deaths of six Polish miners at the Niwka-Modrzejow coal mine in Sosnowiec.


McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

Please contact us today at 888-758-4757 to learn how we can provide mine safety training and consulting for your business.

Federal mine safety commission finds Indiana coal company violated safety standards after mine operator causes risk of catastrophic explosion

First published by MSHA

Commission levels $102K in penalties for ‘unwarrantable failures’

WASHINGTON – The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission has ruled unanimously that the operator of a Francisco, Indiana coal mine violated mandatory safety standards when it continued to operate an energized drill during a methane inundation, creating the risk of a catastrophic explosion.

On Aug. 24, 2022, the commission determined that allowing the drill to remain energized, and continuing to work, were unwarrantable failures. The commission also determined that the mine manager who oversaw the dangerous work was personally liable for the violations.

“The Mine Act is clear that operators have the ultimate responsibility to prevent mining hazards and dangerous working conditions,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “The U.S. Department of Labor will continue to enforce the law and hold mine operators accountable when they put lives at risk and fail to protect miners’ safety and health.”

The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued two citations: one for failure to deenergize the drill, and the other for performing work. MSHA designated both as “unwarrantable failures” to comply with mandatory standards, a designation that establishes more severe consequences for violations caused by aggravated conduct. The commission assessed a penalty of $96,000 on Peabody Midwest and a $6,000 penalty on the manager.

MSHA also proposed a penalty against the manager who supervised the work, because he knew or should have known that he was required to shut down the drill and stop work.

Peabody Midwest was conducting exploratory drilling in an underground coal mine when the drill punched through the coal bed and into an old mine. Methane gas began blasting through the drill hole. Methane-measuring devices indicated that the methane was over five percent by volume, into the range where it is explosive if an ignition source is introduced to the atmosphere. A rotating drill or any energized electrical equipment can be an ignition source.

MSHA mandatory standards require operators to take certain action when the concentration of methane rises above 1.5 percent by volume. Operators must evacuate the area, deenergize equipment and disconnect it at the power source, and perform “no other work” until methane levels fall below one percent. Instead of doing so, Peabody Midwest continued to run the drill, pulling out drill bits in attempt to clear the hole so that it could be plugged.


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA launches app to provide miners access to health, safety, miners’ rights information

First published by MSHA

Provides notifications on mining accidents and how to prevent them

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today launched an app for use on iPhone and Android devices that will help get timely information directly to miners and members of the mining community.

The app allows miners to easily use the tool at mine sites and outside of working hours to search for best safety and health practices and find resources on understanding their rights and responsibilities under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The app also sends users notifications of mining accidents and how to prevent them.

The app is divided into five main sections:

  • Safety Topics.
  • Health Topics.
  • Miners’ Rights.
  • About MSHA.
  • A Contact Us section.

“Miners nationwide can now access important safety and health and miners’ rights information in the palm of their hands,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson.

Traditionally, miners have received safety and health information from several sources, including their unions, miners’ representatives, their mine’s safety office or managers, training programs, MSHA inspectors, and industry stakeholder groups. Although those remain important avenues to reach miners, technology has made it possible for miners to research information directly. MSHA has collaborated with mining stakeholders on accessibility for miners and developed various design features throughout the application in response to stakeholders.

“This new, innovative tool is another technical and educational resource to empower miners and help them play active roles in mine safety and health; even so, the Mine Act is clear that mine operators have the primary responsibility to maintain safe and healthy working conditions and provide regular and thorough training to miners,” Williamson added.

Download the agency’s app at the iPhone App Store.
Download the agency’s app at the Google Play Store.


McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

Please contact us today at 888-758-4757 to learn how we can provide mine safety training and consulting for your business.

Appeals court rules Minnesota mine operator ‘flagrantly’ violated Mine Act after elevated walkway collapsed in 2016

First published by MSHA

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled unanimously on Aug. 22, 2022, that the operator of a Lake County, Minnesota, iron ore mine flagrantly violated the federal Mine Safety and Health Act when it directed miners to work on an elevated walkway known to be unsafe for more than a year.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals also found two managers employed by Northshore Mining Co. personally liable for the violation and assessed each with a $4,000 fine based on the managers’ lack of effort to encourage repairs despite knowing about the dangerous walkway.

“Protecting the safety and health of our nation’s miners is our highest priority,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “The U.S. Department of Labor will hold mine operators and individuals accountable when they break the law and jeopardize workers’ safety and health. Congress gave Mine Safety and Health Administration the authority to designate serious violations that operators know about but do not try to correct as flagrant, and we will not hesitate to use this authority to ensure that the laws that protect miners are adequately enforced.”

After a series of mine tragedies, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act in 2006, an update to the Mine Act that allowed significant penalties, currently up to $291,234, to be imposed for flagrant violations of mine health and safety standards.

For the first time, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals considered what constitutes a reckless flagrant violation under the Mine Act. The MINER Act defines a flagrant violation as “a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory health or safety standard that substantially and proximately caused, or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury.”

The court determined the Secretary’s definition of “reckless” in the flagrant definition was reasonable and Northshore’s failure to maintain the walkway met that definition. It found the violation occurred because of the operator’s reckless disregard, and the failure to comply with mine safety standards was “unwarrantable.”

The court ordered the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to assess a civil penalty for the violation considering its flagrant designation.

In June 2015, an independent engineering report commissioned by Northshore noted an elevated walkway at its iron ore processing plant was structurally inadequate and unsafe for use. Mud and debris often covered the walkway, which hid the deficiencies from miners’ view. Management continued sending miners to work on the walkway. In September 2016, a miner working on the walkway about 50 feet above the ground was injured when the walkway collapsed.

Federal law requires mine operators to maintain elevated walkways in good condition and to barricade or post warning signs about hazards that are not immediately obvious. After investigating the accident, MSHA issued enforcement actions for the operator’s failure to comply with each requirement and designated the walkway violation as a flagrant violation. MSHA also held two managers personally liable for knowingly authorizing, ordering, or carrying out the walkway violation.

Rebecca Mullins in the department’s Office of the Solicitor, handled the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA administrator to miners and operators: Be proactive on preventing silica exposure

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Christopher-Williamson.jpg

Photo: US Department of Labor

Arlington, VA — As the Mine Safety and Health Administration works toward publishing a proposed rule on respirable crystalline silica, agency administrator Chris Williamson is encouraging mine workers and operators to “take proactive measures” to assess silica-related health hazards.

The Department of Labor’s Spring 2022 regulatory agenda, published June 21, shows MSHA’s intent to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on silica in September. Speaking during a June 28 conference call for industry stakeholders, Williamson called for forward-thinking and action within the mining community in the interim.

OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust annually. Workers can inhale silica dust during mining and other operations, including cutting, sawing, drilling or crushing materials such as rock and stone. Crystalline silica can damage lung tissue and lead to lung disease, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or incurable silicosis.

“When miners are repeatedly overexposed to silica levels that are unhealthy, that’s how you develop these diseases,” Williamson said. “Once a miner develops a form of pneumoconiosis, outside of getting a lung transplant, there’s no fix for that. It’s a progressive illness.”

In June, MSHA launched an enforcement initiative intended to increase protections against respirable crystalline silica. Measures include conducting spot inspections at coal and nonmetal mines “with a history of repeated silica overexposures,” expanding sampling at mines, and offering compliance assistance to mine operators.

MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations Patricia Silvey said during the call that the enforcement initiative is “not meant to be, ‘Gotcha!’”

“It’s not meant to be punitive,” she continued. “It’s really meant to be proactive and remedial, and try to get corrective action … before we even show up.”

A fatality number that ‘really jumps out’

MSHA reported that eight of the 15 fatal on-the-job injuries among miners to date this year have involved workers with one year or less of experience at the mine.

“Whenever we see a number like this, it really jumps out at us and we really want to make sure that training is what it needs to be,” Marcus Smith, chief of MSHA’s Accident Investigations Division, said during the call.

Agency officials discussed several related best practices, including training personnel to:

  • Perform tasks safely and recognize potential hazards.
  • Recognize hazardous highwall conditions.
  • Recognize fall hazards and use fall protection when they exist.
  • Identify hazardous roof and rib conditions.

McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

COVID-19 and health care workers: Walsh reiterates that permanent rule likely before year’s end

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

Walsh-2.jpg

Photo: Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee

Washington — Echoing comments made by OSHA administrator Doug Parker during a hearing three weeks earlier, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said a permanent standard on COVID-19 for the health care industry may be published sometime in the fall.

Walsh testified before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on June 15 – a day after appearing before the House Education and Labor Committee.

During the June 15 hearing, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the subcommittee, asked Walsh for an update on the forthcoming permanent standard. OSHA withdrew the non-recordkeeping parts of its emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 focused on health care workers Dec. 27 – around six months after it first went into effect.

“I believe it will be done in the next three to six months.” Walsh said.

“Three to six months from now?” Murray asked.

“Yes. It’s the rulemaking process,” Walsh responded. “I would love to speed it up, but, unfortunately, it’s the process that’s in place that we have to work under.”

Walsh also noted that OSHA is continuing its work on a standard on infectious diseases. According to the Department of Labor’s latest regulatory agenda, issued Dec. 10, that standard would be aimed at the health care industry and other “high-risk environments.”

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is expected to publish an updated regulatory agenda in the near future.

Mining deaths

During both hearings, Walsh highlighted a recent increase in mine worker fatalities. The labor secretary told Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) separately that his department had a call with “some of the major mining companies in America” to talk about sharing best practices on safety.

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, 37 mining fatalities were recorded last year – up from 29 in 2020. As of June 15, the agency had reported 12 miner deaths this year.

“Something I did when I was the mayor of Boston when we had high shootings is we brought all the stakeholders to the table. We did the same thing with the mining industry,” Walsh told Capito. “We need to make sure we stay on top of it.”


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.

MSHA takes action to reduce miners’ exposure to silica dust as work continues on an improved health standard

First published by MSHA

MSHA launched unprecedented effort to protect miners
from serious illnesses such as black lung disease, silicosis

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has launched a new enforcement initiative to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards resulting from repeated overexposure to respirable crystalline silica. MSHA reports silica dust affects thousands of miners each year and, without adequate protection, miners face risks of serious illnesses, many of which can be fatal.

Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete and mortar contain crystalline silica. Respirable crystalline silica – minute particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand – becomes airborne during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing stone and rock.

Without proper protections and engineering controls in place, miners can be exposed to dangerous levels of crystalline silica particles, which increases their risk of developing serious silica-related diseases. These conditions include incurable lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as “black lung;” progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung; silicosis; lung and other cancers; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and kidney disease.

“Simply put, protecting miners from unhealthy levels of silica cannot wait,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “We are committed to using every tool in MSHA’s toolbox to protect miners from developing debilitating and deadly lung diseases that are entirely preventable. We have seen too many miners carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to breathe just to take a few steps or do the simplest of tasks after having their lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust.”

“Our agency is working hard and is committed to issuing a silica rule that will enhance health protections for all miners. The enforcement initiative that we are announcing today is a step we can take now while we continue the rulemaking process toward the development of an improved mandatory health standard,” Williamson added.

As part of the program, MSHA will conduct silica dust-related mine inspections and expand silica sampling at mines, while providing mine operators with compliance assistance and best practices to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust.

Specifically, the silica enforcement initiative will include:

  • Spot inspections at coal and metal nonmetal mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate health and safety conditions.
  • Increased oversight and enforcement of known silica hazards at mines with previous citations for exposing miners to silica dust levels over the existing permissible exposure limit of 100 micrograms. For metal and nonmetal mines where the operator has not timely abated hazards, MSHA will issue a 104(b) withdrawal order until the silica overexposure hazard has been abated. For coal mines, MSHA will encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans to address known health hazards.
  • Expanded silica sampling at metal and nonmetal mines to ensure inspectors’ samples represent the mines, commodities, and occupations known to have the highest risk for overexposure.
  • A focus on sampling during periods of the mining process that present the highest risk of silica exposure for miners. For coal mines, those processes include shaft and slope sinking, extended cuts and developing crosscuts, while metal and nonmetal sampling will focus on miners working to remove overburden.
  • Reminding miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.

In addition, Educational Field and Small Mine Services staff will provide compliance assistance and outreach to mine operators, unions and other mining community organizations to promote and advance protections for miners.

The recently launched MSHA initiative is intended to take immediate action to reduce the risks of silica dust exposure as the department’s development of a mining industry standard continues.

Silica Enforcement Initiative 


McCraren Compliance offers many opportunities in safety training to help circumvent accidents. Please take a moment to visit our calendar of classes to see what we can do to help your safety measures from training to consulting.