Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced it is strengthening enforcement of its “Rules to Live By” initiative of standards commonly cited following mining deaths and adding two new standards targeting safe lighting in surface work areas at coal mines and fall protection at metal and non-metal mines.
MSHA is also fortifying nine underground coal mine exam rule standards for hazards that pose the greatest risk to miners in underground coal mines.
Beginning July 1, MSHA will more extensively employ its web-based Rules to Live By and exam rule calculators to determine the number of Rules to Live By and exam rule citations and orders issued during the most recent completed inspection periods for which data are available.
Inspectors will provide mine operators with a copy of the results, encouraging them to use the tools to monitor their own compliance and take action to eliminate violations. The results will be added to criteria for consideration of impact inspections, particularly targeting mines with elevated noncompliance of these standards.
In an effort to prevent mining deaths, MSHA launched its Rules to Live By outreach and enforcement initiative in 2010. The effort focused on the most commonly cited safety standard violations that have caused or contributed to fatal mining accidents. Two subsequent phases focused on preventing catastrophic accidents and preventing common mining deaths.
“MSHA analyzed the cause of death of hundreds of U.S. mining fatalities in a 10-year period to identify the conditions and practices that contributed to the fatalities, safety standards violated, root causes and abatement practices,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “With this information, we can better target the causes and take action to prevent needless mining deaths.”
The agency analysis shows fatalities associated with Rules to Live By standards have decreased by an average of 23 percent. Significant and substantial citations and orders issued for violations of these standards have also declined by an average of 37 percent, while MSHA issued more than 45,000 “significant and substantial” citations and orders for violations of Rules to Live By standards.
In 2012, MSHA issued new regulations requiring underground coal mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions and violations of nine health and safety standards that pose the greatest risk to miners. Fatalities associated with the exam rule standard – or Part 75 of the Code of Federal Regulations – have decreased by an average of 22 percent and S&S citations and orders issued for violations of this standard have declined by an average of 45 percent. However, more than 15,000 citations and orders were issued for violations of exam rule standards since implementation of the rule.
“It is absolutely imperative that mine operators conduct examinations of mines each day to assure they are in compliance with the Rules to Live By and examination standards linked to most of the mining deaths,” said Main. “While we have seen some progress, we are not where we need to be if these fatalities are to be prevented. That is why we are increasing attention on these critical standards. We urge the mining industry to do the same.”