Engulfment incident spurs MSHA safety alert on surge piles

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Photo: Photo: Mine Safety and Health Administration

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.

MSHA Fatality #6

MINE FATALITY – An over-the-road truck driver was found unresponsive near his bulk trailer, where it appears he fell from the top of the trailer. The driver was taken to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery; however, he passed away from his injuries.

scene of accident where the victim fell from the top of the trailer
  1. Provide a means to align bulk trailers under truck racks to assure the ramp is aligned correctly with the trailer’s lids so that miners have safe access. Alignment methods can include painted lines, concrete barriers, cameras and monitors, or sensors to indicate proper positioning.
  2. Wear proper footwear that is clean and in good condition.
  3. Examine work areas and routinely monitor work habits to ensure that workers follow safe work procedures.
  4. Identify and control all hazards associated with the work to be performed.
Additional Information:

This is the 6th fatality reported in 2020, and the second fatality classified as “Slip or Fall of Person”

MSHA Safety Alert – Surge Piles

On March 5, 2020, an operator was using a Caterpillar D8T bulldozer on a coal surge pile near a load-out feeder location when the surge pile collapsed, engulfing the bulldozer and trapping the operator inside the cab. The operator was uninjured because the bulldozer was equipped with:

  • High-strength glass that prevented coal from entering the operator’s cab; and
  • Two Self Contained Self-Rescuers (SCSRs) which provided the equipment operator sufficient breathable air throughout the two-hour rescue effort.​

MSHA urges all mine operators and contractors to be aware of hazards associated with operating equipment on or near coal surge piles and to follow the safety practices listed below.

Safety Alert for Working On or Near Surge Piles

Best Practices for Working On or Near Surge Piles

  • Install high-strength glass certified to support at least 40 psi with a frame and supports designed to withstand the added loading.
  • Stock cabs with safety equipment. Securely store additional SCSRs, flashlights, cooling packs and drinking water in equipment cabs.
  • Mark feeder locations and provide visual indicators to identify active feeders.
  • Stay stable. Don’t operate equipment directly over feeders, stay away from the unstable drawhole edges and ensure that dozers use the “double blade” pushing method by leaving the first blade of material short of the drawhole edge and bumping it into the drawhole using the second blade of material.
  • Always keep the dozer blade between the cab and the feeder.
  • Provide gates on feeders or ensure that coal cannot discharge when a feeder is not operable.
  • Be aware of surge pile conditions such as excessive material settling in piles that have been idled, excessive compaction of material layers overlying the feeders, and freezing weather conditions that create hidden cavities when the material is “bridged” over a feeder.
  • Make sure the equipment operator can remotely shut-down the stacker and feeder belts from the equipment cab.
  • Install closed-circuit TV monitors so feeder operators can observe conditions and activities on the surge pile and provide two-way radio communication.
  • Prevent foot traffic on surge piles and provide adequate warning signs.
  • Use remote-controlled dozers on surge piles.
  • Provide adequate training for all surge pile workers to include specialized training on alarm response, equipment needs and rescue and recovery plans involving engulfed equipment.

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.

COVID-19 pandemic: Miners union calls for emergency MSHA standard

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Photo: RyersonClark/iStockphoto

Triangle, VA — Citing concerns over the adjacent nature of mining work and the growing prevalence of respiratory illness in the industry, the United Mine Workers of America is calling on the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency standard to help safeguard mine workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a March 24 letter sent via email to MSHA administrator David Zatezalo, UMWA President Cecil Roberts contends miners are “one of the most vulnerable populations” to the potentially deadly respiratory disease. Many workers, he writes, suffer from underlying health conditions such as heart disease, compromised immune systems and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly but preventable condition commonly known as black lung disease. According to NIOSH, rates of black lung disease have more than doubled over the past 15 years.

Roberts writes that the effects of these conditions “will greatly exacerbate” the symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The uneasiness grows for miners who reside in rural areas with limited access to health care.

“Our miners work in close proximity to one another from the time they arrive at the mine site,” the letter states. “They get dressed, travel down the elevator together, ride in the same mantrip, work in confined spaces, breathe the same air, operate the same equipment and use the same shower facilities.”

Roberts calls on MSHA to exercise its authority and require mine operators to:

  • Provide access to N95 respirators
  • Implement policies and procedures for disinfecting equipment between shifts and when changing operators
  • Offer extra personal protective equipment for pulling cables, touching shared equipment and handling shared materials
  • Provide disinfectant strategies for bathhouses and gathering places

­UMWA outlines several precautionary measures various mine operators already have taken:

  • Offering additional disinfection between shifts in toilet, sink, shower and boot wash areas, as well as near bulletin boards and lunch spaces
  • Disinfecting all cap lamps, detectors, radios and any other equipment used by miners, after shifts and before other miners are able to use them
  • Providing miners with disinfecting wipes and spray
  • Disinfecting all equipment before use
  • Providing additional nitrile medical gloves for miners to wear in addition to their required work gloves
  • Limiting the number of miners traveling on elevators and mantrips
  • Suspending the use of hand scanners

However, the letter argues that these practices alone won’t keep miners safe.

“UMWA stands ready to work with MSHA, the mining industry and our members to find ways to protect miners in these unprecedented times,” Roberts writes. “Miners are a resilient people and have overcome many challenges throughout time. This will be yet another situation where we will overcome, protecting our miners, their families, their communities, and allow them to continue to provide these valuable resources when our nation needs them most.”

MSHA says no Pattern of Violations notices needed in 2019

Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration did not identify any Pattern of Violations offenders among the nation’s 13,000-plus mines for the sixth consecutive screening period.

The most recent screening period began Feb. 1, 2019, and ended Jan. 31, MSHA states in a March 17 press release. The agency conducts screenings at least once annually.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 authorizes MSHA to issue POV notices to operators who “demonstrate a disregard for the health and safety of miners through a pattern of significant and substantial violations.” Further, a January 2013 final rule allows MSHA to consider extenuating circumstances before issuing a POV notice and prompts operators to fix problems if they are approaching the threshold of a POV.

pair of online tools allows the agency to assist with compliance. POV monitoring notifies mine operators that they are approaching POV status and should take action to correct issues. The S&S rate calculator allows mine operators to track “significant and substantial” violations. According to the release, the rate of such violations fell to 20% in 2019 from 32% in 2011.

“Safety and health is what we care about most,” agency administrator David Zatezalo said in the release. “It’s what miners’ families care about, and we can see it’s what mine operators care about. We’ll issue [POV] notices when we need to, but it’s a good feeling to look at the screenings and see no mines meeting the criteria.”

Safety Alert – Electro-Hydraulic Lifts

Use qualified welders. Inspect welds and metal components. Train users.

Damaged or defective welds on aerial lifts have caused two fatalities in the mining industry since 2001.

  • A mechanic died while being lowered in an electro-hydraulic aerial lift. A weld splice fractured on a recently repaired arm of the lift, causing the arm to strike the victim in the head (Figure 1). The weld failed because of poor weld quality from an improper repair.
  • A welder died while being lowered in an electro-hydraulic aerial lift when the lift arm catastrophically fractured at a critical weld connecting the arm support to its lift cylinder (Figure 2). Undetected cracks existed in the weld and the surrounding metal prior to failure.
Electric hydraulic lifts use of qualified weilders, inspection welds and metal components includign training users
Best Practices:

Best Practices to Prevent the Mechanical Failure of Welded Connections
Prevent accidents by following proper welding procedures and performing regular inspections for damages or defects.

  • Only qualified welders should perform all welding.
  • Determine the service/fatigue life of mechanical systems or parts by consulting with the manufacturer.
  • Inspect welds following installation and repairs, and periodically during service life.
  • Train users in the proper operation of lifts – including not exceeding their design capacity.
  • Routinely examine metal components for signs of weakness, corrosion, fatigue cracks, bends, buckling, deflection, missing connectors, etc.
  • Use nondestructive test methods to detect cracks that may be indistinguishable to the eye.
  • Take cracked mechanical components out of service immediately. Small cracks can quickly grow and lead to catastrophic fracture.

U.S. Department of Labor Announces No U.S. Mines Met Pattern of Violations Screening Criteria

ARLINGTON, VA – Of the nation’s 13,000 mining operations, none met the screening criteria for a Pattern of Violations (POV), one of the toughest enforcement tools used by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The announcement follows MSHA’s most recent screening, covering the period from Feb. 1, 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020. This was the sixth consecutive screening that resulted in no POV notices. The last screening covered the period from Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2019. Under MSHA regulations, MSHA conducts POV screenings “at least once each year.”

MSHA reserves use of the POV provision – established in the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 – for mines that pose the greatest risk to miners’ health and safety, particularly those with chronic violation records.

“Safety and health is what we care about most at the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It’s what miners care about, it’s what miners’ families care about and we can see it’s what mine operators care about,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo. “We’ll issue Pattern of Violations notices when we need to, but it’s a good feeling to look at the screenings and see no mines meeting the criteria.”

In January 2013, MSHA published its POV rule to strengthen safety measures in the nation’s most dangerous mines. Under the regulation, MSHA may consider mitigating circumstances before issuing a POV notice and encourages mine operators to implement a corrective action program if they are close to meeting the POV screening criteria.

MSHA provides two online tools to help mine operators monitor compliance: the POV tool, which informs mine operators how they rate against the screening criteria and should take appropriate corrective actions; and the S&S rate calculator, which enables mine operators to monitor their “significant and substantial” violations. Between 2011 and 2019, the rate of significant and substantial violations dropped from approximately 32 percent to 20 percent, an indicator of safety improvements in mines.

U.S. Department of Labor Announces Effective Date For Final Rule Revising Mining Explosive Safety Standards

WASHINGTON, DC – A direct final rule revising safety standards for mining explosives has gone into effect, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced. Published Jan. 14, 2020, the rule updates existing standards to incorporate technological advancements involving electronic detonators at metal and nonmetal mines.

Learn more about MSHA rulemaking and regulations.

MSHA works to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and to promote safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners. MSHA carries out the provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) as amended by the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006. The agency develops and enforces safety and health rules for all U.S. miners regardless of size, number of employees, commodity mined, or method of extraction. MSHA also provides technical, educational and other types of assistance to mine operators.

MSHA Fatality #5

METAL/NON-METAL MINE FATALITY – On February 29, 2020, a plant foreman was priming the main suction pump on a dredge when a two-inch coupling on the waterjet pipe failed, knocking the victim into the water. Divers retrieved his body several hours later. The victim was not wearing a life preserver.

February 29, 2020 fatality accident scene
Best Practices:
  • Wear a life preserver where there is a risk of falling into the water.
  • Identify all possible hazards and ensure appropriate controls are in place to protect miners before beginning work.
  • Provide swimming training for everyone that works around water.
Additional Information:

This is the 5th fatality reported in 2020, and the first classified as “Machinery.”