U.S. Department of Labor Announces Proposed Rule Adopting Standards For Electric Motor-Driven Mine Equipment and Accessories

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Arlington, VA — A recently proposed rule from the Mine Safety and Health Administration would revise testing, evaluation and approval regulations for mine equipment and accessories powered by electric motors intended for use in environments with gases.

The proposed rule, published in the Nov. 19 Federal Register, would establish a one-year transition period in which mine operators may use equipment and accessories that satisfy either 14 voluntary consensus standards or the existing MSHA approval requirements.

Mine operators would thereafter be required to “use the consensus standards for equipment and accessories covered by consensus standards,” a Nov. 18 agency press release states. MSHA contends the proposal is aimed at promoting the use of advanced technologies that will foster improved mine safety and health, as well as enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency’s approval process.

“MSHA believes that a 12-month transition period will provide manufacturers, approval holders and applicants enough time to make design and build changes necessary to meet the required specifications of the VCS for new applications,” the proposed rule states.

The American National Standards Institute, the International Electrotechnical Commission, the International Society of Automation and UL LLC developed the VCS outlined in the proposed rule, which covers equipment such as:

  • Portable two-way radios
  • Remote control units for mining machinery
  • Longwall mining systems
  • Portable oxygen detectors
  • Miner-wearable components for proximity detection systems
  • Powered air-purifying respirators

The National Mining Association supports the proposed rule.

“The industry has long advocated for updates to the standards, which limit companies’ ability to use the latest available technologies to create safer mine environments,” NMA President and CEO Rich Nolan said in a Nov. 18 press release. “Current standards have resulted in a backlog of superior technologies awaiting MSHA approvals, even as those technologies are being used successfully in mines elsewhere around the world or by other occupations in the U.S.

“The proposed updates will allow us to provide the best available protection for miners through a more efficient and effective process. Put simply, this translates into people being safer sooner.”

Comments are due Dec. 21.

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

DOL OIG recommends MSHA lower exposure limit for silica

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Washington — The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General is advising the Mine Safety and Health Administration to lower its legal exposure limit for silica, among other recommendations, in a report released Nov. 16.

MSHA’s silica exposure limit of 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air was established more than 50 years ago and is out of date, the report states. OSHA has since lowered its silica exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, but “both OSHA and NIOSH warned that 50 μg/m³ is the lowest feasible limit, not the safest.”

A recent increase in progressive massive fibrosis – the most severe form of black lung disease – has been linked to “high-volume mechanized mining of decreasing deposits of coal, which releases more silica dust,” the report notes. More than three times as many coal miners were identified as having black lung disease from 2010 to 2014, compared with 1995 to 1999.

“The evidence indicates respirable crystalline silica may be responsible for this increase,” DOL OIG says.

DOL OIG also recommends that MSHA establish a separate standard to allow the agency to issue citations and monetary penalties for silica exposure limit violations. Further, it advises MSHA to increase the frequency of inspector samples “where needed” to enhance its sampling program. One example is by implementing a risk-based approach.

In a response dated Oct. 27, MSHA administrator David Zatezalo wrote that his agency does not agree with the recommendations of lowering the silica exposure limit or penalizing operators solely for exposure violations. He added that MSHA plans to issue a proposed rule on exposure to respirable quartz – one of the most common types of respirable crystalline silica.

Zatezalo said the agency will study DOL OIG’s final recommendation, including the risk-based approach, to see if sampling needs to increase under certain mining 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.

MSHA: ‘No changes are necessary’ to criteria for certifying coal mine rescue teams

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Arlington, VA — Criteria for the certification of coal mine rescue teams will “remain in effect, without changes,” the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Sept. 1, after completing a requisite review under the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006.

MSHA revised the guidelines of the MINER Act in December 2013. Certification criteria for mine rescue teams outlined under Title 30 CFR Part 49.50 state that members must:

  • Receive proper annual training.
  • Be familiar with the operations of each covered mine.
  • Participate in at least two local mine rescue contests each year.
  • Complete mine rescue training at each covered mine.
  • Be knowledgeable about the operations and ventilation of each covered mine.

The MINER Act requires MSHA to review the certification criteria every five years.

“After a review of these criteria, MSHA has determined that these criteria are still appropriate and that no changes are necessary,” the agency states.

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.

Working near belt conveyors: Recent deaths spur MSHA safety alert

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First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Arlington, VA — Spurred by numerous fatalities related to the hazards of working near belt conveyors, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a safety alert.

Published on Sept. 3, the alert states that eight fatalities involving belt conveyors have occurred in the industry since Jan. 26, 2017. Six involved miners working near a moving conveyor, and two occurred during maintenance on an idle conveyor.

“All of these fatalities could have been prevented with proper lockout/tagout and blocking against motion before working,” the alert states.

MSHA details the most recent incident, which occurred in December and remains under investigation. A miner was fatally injured after removing a splice pin from a mainline conveyor that was caught between the belt and frame of the belt tailpiece.

The agency lists multiple best practices for working safely near belt conveyors, including:

  • Identify, isolate and control stored mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and gravitational energy.
  • Effectively block the belt conveyor to prevent movement in either direction.
  • Relieve belt tension by releasing energy at the take up/belt storage system. Remember: Some tensile energy might still exist.
  • Position belt splice in an area of safe access to avoid pinch points.
  • De-energize electrical power, and lock and tag the main disconnect before beginning maintenance. Permit only the person who installed a lock and tag to remove them – and only after completing the work.
  • Never lock out start and stop controls or belt switches, as they don’t disconnect power conductors.

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.

COVID-19 pandemic: ‘More action is needed’ from MSHA, DOL inspector says


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Washington — Although the Mine Safety and Health Administration has taken steps to protect workers in the mining industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, “more action is needed” from the agency as evolving challenges mount, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General concludes in an audit report.

Released July 24, the report resulted from a DOL OIG analysis of MSHA guidance, various states’ executive orders and other related documents, as well as an assessment of interviews with MSHA officials and union representatives.

DOL OIG issued two recommendations to MSHA:

  • Monitor the potential backlog of suspended and reduced enforcement activities and develop a plan to manage the backlog once full operations resume.
  • Monitor COVID-19 outbreaks at mines and use that information to reevaluate the agency’s decision not to issue an emergency temporary standard related to COVID-19.

MSHA administrator David Zatezalo states in a written response to the audit report that he agrees with the recommendations and notes that “MSHA currently does not have a backlog of statutorily mandated enforcement activities and the agency anticipates meeting such requirements for [fiscal year] 2020.”

webpage detailing the agency’s response to the pandemic states that “MSHA will continue to perform its essential functions, including mandatory inspections, serious accident investigations and investigations of hazard complaints (imminent danger or serious in nature).” However, DOL OIG reports that the agency, as of May, has suspended five categories of enforcement actions – including its incident reduction program – while seriously reducing activity in 13 other categories.

Additionally, about 100 of 750 agency inspectors self-identified as high risk for severe complications from COVID-19, DOL OIG reports, prompting them to work remotely or take leave. Although this measure accounts for these inspectors’ safety and health, it may contribute to putting miners at increased risk because the remaining inspectors “must work overtime to cover those gaps” while identifying potential hazards.

MSHA has released voluntary guidelines intended to protect miners during the pandemic, but the agency “is facing considerable pressure from mining unions, Congress, and others to exercise its authority and issue an emergency temporary standard,” the report states.

In May, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation that would require MSHA to issue within seven days of enactment an emergency temporary standard to help protect mine workers from exposure to COVID-19, followed by a final rule. At press time, the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act (S. 3710) remained in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

One month after the bill was introduced, the United Mine Workers of America and the United Steelworkers filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit a joint emergency petition against the Department of Labor and MSHA as a measure to compel the agency to issue an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases.

“The noted legislation has not yet been enacted and the petition before the U.S. Court of Appeals is pending,” the report states. “MSHA leadership told us it does not intend to issue an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 until it determines the need arises.”

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.

No changes to training requirements for refuge alternatives in coal mines, MSHA says


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Washington — The Mine Safety and Health Administration has determined that the annual training requirements outlined in its Refuge Alternatives for Underground Coal Mines rule supply “an experience sufficient to enable miners to apply their knowledge, other training and available written instruction to effectively use the refuge alternative in an emergency.”

After multiple reopenings of the record and extensions of the comment period, MSHA announced in a notice published in the July 10 Federal Register that the rule – finalized in December 2008 and effective in March 2009 – “remains in effect without change.”

In 2009, United Mine Workers of America challenged the rule in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, citing NIOSH research in support of its push for quarterly training to better protect miners.

The court remanded the rule but didn’t vacate it, directing the agency to “explain the basis for the training frequency provision from the existing record or to reopen the record and allow additional public comment if needed.”

After reopening the record, MSHA received three public comments, including two in support of retaining the existing rule. The agency states in the notice that the rule’s approach is consistent with mandates in West Virginia, the lone state that specifies training for refuge alternative deployment requirements. It added, “MSHA concludes that annual motor-task (hands-on), decision-making and expectations training, supplemented by existing mandated quarterly review of deployment and use procedures, as well as existing mandated quarterly evacuation training and quarterly evacuation drills with review of a mine’s evacuation plan, which include discussion of emergency scenarios and options for escape and refuge, will prepare miners to deploy and use refuge alternatives appropriately and effectively in an emergency.”

McCraren Compliance sees the solution in our people. We are developing each person into a safety leader by recognizing and valuing them as humans and teaching them to do the same with their co-workers. We are creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other.

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

COVID-19 pandemic: Bipartisan bill would direct MSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard


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Washington — Bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the Senate would require the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard within seven days of enactment, followed by the issuance of a final rule.

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act (S. 3710) – introduced May 13 by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) – would forbid mine operators from retaliating against mine workers who report infection control problems to employers or any public authority.

According to May 14 press release from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the bill’s seven co-sponsors, the legislation also would require:

  • Mine operators to provide workers with personal protective equipment.
  • MSHA to issue a permanent comprehensive infectious disease standard within two years.
  • MSHA to track, analyze and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infection data – in coordination with OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – to make recommendations and guidance to protect workers.

“Miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” Brown said in the release. “Now they’re facing more danger, as working conditions put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.”

MSHA says it has received a “high volume” of questions about COVID-19. In response, the agency published an information sheet with recommendations for miners and mine operators to help prevent the spread of the disease, along with a list of actions MSHA has taken during the ongoing pandemic.

Miners and mine operators are encouraged to stay home when sick, avoid close contact with others, wash hands frequently, and regularly clean and disinfect equipment and commonly touched surfaces.

The bill – co-sponsored by five other Senate Democrats and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on May 13.

MSHA cancels clarification letter on escapeway requirements for underground mines


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Washington — After weighing public and stakeholder input, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has rescinded a program policy letter intended to clarify requirements for providing emergency escapeways for underground metal and nonmetal miners, determining that the clarification “is not needed.”

According to a notice published in the May 27 Federal Register, MSHA made its decision after considering comments on the letter – initially published in the July 29 Federal Register – and feedback received during an Oct. 10 public stakeholder meeting.

The agency states that under 30 CFR 57.11050:

  • “Every mine shall have two or more separate, properly maintained escapeways to the surface from the lowest levels which are so positioned that damage to one shall not lessen the effectiveness of the others. A method of refuge shall be provided while a second opening to the surface is being developed. A second escapeway is recommended, but not required, during the exploration or development of an ore body.”
  • “A method of refuge shall be provided” for miners to safely take shelter in the event they are unable to access the areas “when using the normal exit method.”

The letter notes that the refuge site “should be located near the miners so that they promptly and reliably” can enter, and encourages mine operators to confer with MSHA district managers on mine-specific conditions and factors when determining escape and evacuation plans

Engulfment incident spurs MSHA safety alert on surge piles


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Arlington, VA — Prompted by a recent incident in which a coal mine bulldozer operator working on a surge pile of coal was engulfed and trapped in the machine’s cab when the pile collapsed, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a safety alert.

The operator was working near a load-out feeder location at the time the surge pile tumbled. MSHA contends the operator was uninjured because the bulldozer was equipped with high-strength glass that prevented coal from infiltrating the cab, as well as two self-contained self-rescuers, which supplied sufficient, breathable air during a two-hour rescue effort.

According to a 2019 Department of Labor video, surge pile incidents have claimed the lives of 19 miners since 1980. “In an accident, a bulldozer can suddenly fall into a hidden cavity, where the coal has bridged over an underground feeder,” the video says.

MSHA offers numerous best practices for mine operators and contractors to safely work on or near surge piles, including:

  • Prevent foot traffic on surge piles and provide adequate warning signs.
  • Provide adequate surge pile-related training to all workers, including specialization on alarm response, equipment needs, and rescue and recovery plans involving engulfed equipment.
  • Stock cabs with safety equipment, including self-contained self-rescuers, flashlights, cooling pads and drinking water.
  • Stay stable. Do not operate equipment directly over feeders, stay away from unstable drawhole edges and ensure bulldozers employ the “double blade” pushing method.
  • Use remote-controlled dozers on surge piles.
  • Be aware of surge pile conditions.

Worker deaths prompt MSHA safety alert about welds on aerial lifts

Washington — In response to several fatalities resulting from damaged or defective welds on aerial lifts, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a safety alert.

Published March 23, the alert details an incident in which a weld splice on the repaired arm of a lift fractured because of poor weld quality, killing a mechanic on board. In another incident, a welder died when a lift arm “catastrophically fractured at a critical weld connecting the arm support to its lift cylinder.” In this case, cracks in the weld and the surrounding metal went undetected.

MSHA provides several best practices to help avoid similar tragedies:

  • Use only qualified welders to perform all welding.
  • Inspect all welds after installation and repairs, and perform periodic inspections on welds during an aerial lift’s service life.
  • Consult with manufacturers to determine service/fatigue life of mechanical systems or parts.
  • Educate users on proper lift operations, including how to avoid exceeding “design capacity.”
  • Perform routine examinations of metal components for signs of weakness, corrosion, fatigue cracks, bends, buckling or missing connectors, etc.
  • Use nondestructive test methods to detect cracks that might be indistinguishable to the human eye.
  • Remove cracked mechanical components from service immediately.

“Small cracks can quickly grow and lead to catastrophic fracture,” the alert warns.