Industry makes progress but long road still ahead: MSHA

FEDERAL regulators have released data from impact inspection efforts in March revealing the most positive results since the initiative began in 2010, though officials remind the industry that more work lies ahead.

Donna Schmidt

The US Mine Safety and Health Administration said its inspectors issued 155 citations and two orders at the nation’s operations in March, when it visited eight coal mines and four metal/nonmetal operations,

It is the lowest number of orders issued in more than three years.

As an example of its findings over the past month, MSHA chose a copper mine as opposed to a coal operation, which showed it issued 32 citations during the March 3-7 impact visit to Robinson Nevada Mining’s surface Robinson mine in White Pine County, Nevada.

It was the mine’s second impact inspection.

Many of the findings were for issues often found at coal mines, including a failure to keep areas free of hazards that could result in miners suffering injuries from slips, trips or falls.

“A coiled-up cable from a welding machine, along with 2 to 3 feet of material, impeded travel in a walkway [and] two to three inches of inches of water had collected in the sump area,” MSHA said.

“Two citations were issued for failure to correct dangerous conditions at the filter crusher and a starter cabinet had oil-soaked fuses and contactors, creating a fire hazard.

“At the welding shop, the ground prong of an extension cord was broken off, exposing miners to electrical hazards.”

The mine also received citations for not maintaining functioning brakes on two maintenance trucks.

Inspectors also found that a 3200-gallon fuel truck was leaking a large amount of diesel fuel.

MSHA issued a citation for the mine’s failure to perform a pre-shift inspection on a truck before placing it in operation.

Federal inspectors found the backup alarm was not functional, the fire extinguisher had discharged and the operator was not wearing his seat belt.

Other citations were issued for a failure to identify power switches, provide adequate circuit overload protection, set the parking brake on an unattended truck, properly store hazardous materials and maintain a fire alarm system in working order.

“While I say this with a word of caution, the results of the latest impact inspections are part of a positive trend in overall mine safety and health compliance that includes reductions in the number of chronic violators and all-time low fatal and injury rates,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main said.

“We believe that impact inspections, pattern of violation actions and other measures, as well as efforts by the mining industry, are contributing factors.

“However, there is more to be done and there are those who still don’t take responsibility for the safety and health of the miners they employ.”

The agency’s special impact inspections began in April 2010 following an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in which 29 workers were killed.

The push involved mines that warranted increased attention and enforcement by the agency due to a poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.

These included high numbers of violations or closure orders; indications of operator tactics, such as advance notification of inspections that prevented inspectors from observing violations; frequent hazard complaints or hotline calls; plan compliance issues; inadequate workplace examinations; a high number of accidents, injuries or illnesses; fatalities; and adverse conditions such as increased methane liberation, faulty roof conditions and inadequate ventilation.

Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 591 impact inspections and issued 10,191 citations, 948 orders and 43 safeguards.