Category: Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA)

‘Harlem Shake’ video costs 15 miners their jobs

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A group of Australian miners were fired after posting a viral video of themselves doing the “Harlem Shake.”

The 30-second video features around eight underground mine workers in various states of undress performing their rendition of the viral dance craze at the Agnew Gold Mine just west of Agnew, Western Australia.

Barminco, the Australia-based underground services company that operates the mine, sent dismissal letters to 15 workers, all the workers seen in the video and several who were off camera. In the letters, Barminco claimed the performance was in violation of the company’s “core values of safety, integrity and excellence.”

Some of the miners reportedly were drawing a six-figure income from their work in the mine when they lost their jobs. The dismissal letters forbid any of the group from being “subcontracted by Barminco at any site domestically and globally.”


MSHA’s new pattern of violation rule takes aim at repeat mine safety offenders

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The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced last week a major revision to its “pattern of violation” (POV) rules, which it is issuing in an attempt to  make sure mine operators address the most significant hazards in their mines and protect miners from harm.

Pattern of violation rules take aim at mine operators who have already demonstrated, according to MSHA, a disregard for miner safety through a recurring pattern of significant and substantial (S&S) violations. The revisions are designed to strengthen MSHA’s ability to clamp down on mine operators who they say repeatedly disregard  safety and health protections for workers.

“This final rule represents one of MSHA’s highest priority regulatory initiatives and one that addresses Congress’ intent that this regulation encourage chronic violators to comply with the Mine Act and MSHA’s health and safety standards,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “We think that this final rule will help prevent another tragedy such as occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine. It promotes consistency in applying the POV notice as an enforcement tool, provides for a more open and transparent process, emphasizes operators’ responsibility to comply with safety and health standards and monitor their own compliance, and more effectively achieves the statutory intent of the Mine Act.”

MSHA summarizes the changes to the POV rules as follows:

The Final Rule—

  • Eliminates initial screening and the potential POV (PPOV) process.
  • Eliminates the existing requirement that MSHA can consider only final orders in its POV review.
  • Establishes general criteria and procedures that MSHA will use to identify mines with a pattern of S&S violations.
  • Increases transparency and promotes a safety culture by posting the specific criteria that MSHA will use in making POV determinations on the Agency’s website. MSHA will obtain stakeholder input before revising the specific POV criteria, consistent with the OIG’s recommendations.
  • Restates the statutory requirement that, for mines in POV status, each S&S violation will result in a withdrawal order until the violation is abated.
  • Provides that MSHA’s web based monthly Monitoring Tool for POV is available to mine operators and the public. This on-line Monthly Monitoring Tool—
    • Allows mine operators to easily monitor their compliance performance;
    • Reinforces mine operators’ responsibility for compliance with MSHA safety and health standards; and
    • Encourages mine operators to take additional measures to reduce S&S violations and improve safety and health protection for miners.
  • Clarifies that MSHA will consider a mine operator’s effective implementation of an MSHA-approved corrective action program as a mitigating circumstance in its POV review, if the program contains concrete, meaningful, and measurable benchmarks and reduces S&S violations.
  • Consistent with existing policy, allows mine operators to request a safety and health conference to discuss violations, including S&S violations.
  • Provides that, after receiving a POV notice, operators can request expedited temporary relief.

Industry organizations, including the National Mining Association (NMA) and the West Virginia Coal Association characterize the new rule as disregarding the concerns of their members, and infringing on their due-process rights.

“Because any unsafe conditions must be remedied under current regulations, no miner is put in harm’s way if a citation is appealed,” the NMA said in a written statement. “As such, the loss of due process rights serves no safety objective.”

But MSHA defends the new rule changes as a long-awaited strengthening of its ability to protect workers in light of accidents like the 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster, which claimed  29 miners, and the 2006 Sago mine disaster, which claimed 12. Both of those disasters occurred at mines with a history of mine safety violations, including significant and substantial violations.

“There has been recognition by many that the system has been broken, with no mine being placed on POV status until 2011 – 33 years after the law went into effect,” said Main. “MSHA should not be prevented from taking action to protect the lives of miners for months, or even years, while we await the final outcome of citations and orders that a mine operator can easily contest. The new rule addresses those flaws.”

New ‘examinations’ rule takes effect for underground mines

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A new rule from the Mine Safety and Health Administration took effect this week. The rule, published in the April 6 Federal Register, calls on mine operators to address nine health and safety standards that contribute to  the most unsafe conditions for American miners who work underground.

The rule, “Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards,” went into effect Aug. 6 and requires that, during pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations, underground coal mine operators examine for violations health and safety standards that cover the following topics:

  • ventilation,
  • methane,
  • roof control,
  • combustible materials,
  • rock dust,
  • equipment guarding, and
  • other safeguards.

According to the MSHA, the nine hazards selected pose the greatest risk to miners year after year.

“These repeated violations expose miners to unnecessary safety and health risks that should be found and corrected by mine operators. The final rule… will increase the identification and correction of unsafe conditions in mines earlier, removing many of the conditions that could lead to danger, and improve protection for miners in underground coal mines,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

The new rule springs from an analysis of accident reports and enforcement data over the course of 5 years. The nine standards are consistent with the standards emphasized in MSHA’s Rules to Live By initiative and the types of violations cited in MSHA’s accident investigation report on the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion as contributing to the cause of that deadly accident.

Investigation spotlights black lung resurgence

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A joint investigation by National Public Radio, the Center for Public Integrity and the Charleston Gazette shines a light on the failures of regulatory systems and safety controls to protect coal miners from black lung.

Black lung disease, or coalworker’s pneumoconiosis, is a pulmonary disease that results from inhaling coal mine dust. According to the news organizations,  the incidence of the disease has doubled in the last ten years while government and labor efforts to end the deadly disease have gained little ground.

The investigations suggest that both the mining industry and federal regulators have been aware for more than two decades of excessive miner exposure to coal dust. But the Mining Safety and Health Administration, which regulates mining industry safety and health, has issued relatively few violations despite the exposure levels in many mines exceeding permissible levels.

The system in place designed to protect workers from the respiratory hazards of coal dust has been in effect for decades. Most of the old rules regarding black lung control have been left largely unchanged since 1969 when Richard Nixon signed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 into law. Following passage of the law, black lung disease rates declined significantly. Coal dust exposure was limited to about a quarter of the concentration miners were exposed to at the time. Still, by the end of the nineties it became clear that the trend toward eliminating black lung would not continue.

Miners, under the 1969 law are entitled to free screening x-rays every five years, which has provided much of the evidence of the resurgence of lack lung. However, what has brought the continued plight of coal miners into the national spotlight for many was the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion. The explosion left 29 miners dead, and of those who had enough lung tissue for a biopsy, 17 showed signs of the illness.

Theories about the increased incidence of black lung include a higher concentration of silica in the dust from the coal seams now being mined. Further, miners have been working longer hours with new equipment. The increase in coal production also means increased exposure to the hazardous dust. Further, there have long been stories emerging from the mines about hijinks occurring during dust monitoring to make it seem like workers are exposed to less dust than they actually are.

The National Mining Association, which represents mining companies, agrees that the resurgence of black lung is an issue of concern but argues that it does not justify new rules nationwide.

MSHA focuses on underground mine ribs in 2012 roof campaign

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The Mine Safety and Health Administration aims to improve rib control in its efforts to save the lives of miners. The 2012 Preventative Roof Rib Outreach Program, PROP, is the latest of the regulatory body’s efforts to preempt mining injuries and deaths through education and outreach to workers and mine owners.

According to the MSHA, There were 484 injuries that resulted from roof and rib failures in 2011, compared to 439 in 2010 — the first year that saw more fatal rib failure accidents than typical roof fall accidents. While roof fall fatalities occur significantly less frequently than they did a decade ago, MSHA notes, rib fall fatality numbers have been fairly consistent. During a rib failure, the walls crumble from pressure; during a roof fall, the roof falls from the top of the mine.

“Rib failures pose as much of a danger as the more typical roof fall accidents,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

MSHA plans to distribute information to underground mine operators and miners in its efforts to reduce injuries and deaths as a result of rib failures. The drive focuses on educating miners about the dangers of rib falls, and to encourage thorough checking to identify hazardous roof and rib conditions so they can be adequately addressed.

About 70 percent of the  rib fall fatality victims since 1995 were either roof bolting machine operators or continuous mining machine operators.  Further, only three had any rib support installed at all.

MSHA offers the following to prevent rib falls:

Safety Tips

  • Rib bolts provide the best protection against rib falls and are most effective when installed on cycle and in a consistent pattern.
  • Operators of mines where conditions create rib fall hazards are strongly encouraged to employ inside-control, walk-through roof bolting machines with rib bolting capability.
  • In some limited situations where rib bolting is not available, other techniques such as roof-to-floor standing support, roof-rib brackets, or pillar wrapping can be helpful.


Diesel exhaust poses threat to miner’s lives

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A recently released study by federal government researchers found that non-metal miners in the United States exposed to diesel exhaust had an increased risk of death from lung cancer.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied 12,000 miners in non-metal mines in completing the report.

The investigators selected only non-metal mines because of their characteristically low levels of other exposures that may be related to lung cancer risk, such as radon, silica, and asbestos.

For the most heavily exposed miners, the risk of dying from lung cancer was three times higher than it was for those exposed to low doses. For non-smokers, the risk was seven times higher.

“The findings suggest that the risks may extend to other workers exposed to diesel exhaust in the United States and abroad, and to people living in urban areas where diesel exhaust levels are elevated,” said Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

Two papers detailing the study’s results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. One of them concluded that diesel-induced lung cancer “may represent a potential public health burden.”

According to the NCI press release, the study is “the first based on historical exposure to diesel exhaust to yield a statistically significant, positive increase in lung cancer risk with increasing diesel exposure after taking smoking and other potential lung cancer risk factors into account.”

“Over the last 10 years alone, emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses have been reduced by 99% for nitrogen oxides (NOx) – an ozone precursor – and 98% for particulate emissions,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, noting that it would take 60 of today’s clean diesel trucks to equal the same level of particulate emissions from one pre-1988 truck.

New underground coal mine examination standards from MSHA aim to hold operators more accountable

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The safety regulatory agency that oversees America’s mines announced the upcoming publication of a new rule that aims to enhance protection of of miners’ health and safety.

The final rule, “Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards,” aims to ensure mine operators correct nine hazards to underground mine workers and requires a record of the steps taken to protect workers from the identified dangers.

The issues addressed by the rule include ventilation, methane, roof-support systems and the use of inert crushed limestone to prevent coal-dust explosions, among others that are most often responsible for serious mining accidents.

“Many of the same types of violations of mandatory health and safety standards are repeatedly found by MSHA inspectors in underground coal mines every year,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “It is critically important for mine operators to take ownership of health and safety. By expanding the existing requirement that operators identify and correct hazardous conditions to include violations of these nine standards, a number of fatalities and injuries may be prevented.”

The publication of the new rule comes just days after the mining industry laid out its plans for a voluntary safety initiative, CORESafety, to bring on-the-job fatalities in the industry to zero before the end of 2015 by focusing on improving management systems.

Tomorrow will mark the second anniversary of the catastrophic explosion that killed 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, a disaster that both government and industry officials acknowledge as drawing a spotlight on the industry’s safety shortcomings.



NIOSH panel highlights MSHA’s missed opportunity to prevent mine catastrophe

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The April 5, 2010, Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the worst mine disaster in the United States in the last 40 years, might have been prevented had the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) been more rigorous and timely in its enforcement of mine safety regulations and laws at the mine. That was the conclusion drawn in a report by an independent review panel established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The independent panel was convened in response to a request by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who asked NIOSH to independently assess MSHA’s internal review of its enforcement actions at the mine.

The panel did not differ with MSHA’s conclusion over the cause of the explosion, and agrees that the mine owner at the time, Massey Energy, was accountable for the explosion.

However, according to the document’s executive summary, the IP (Independent Panel) concluded “that if MSHA had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act and applicable standards and regulations, it would have lessened the chances of — and possibly could have prevented — the UBB explosion.”

The panel pointed to failures in enforcement related to two of the three major events that led to the explosion, the accumulation of methane gas and the accumulation of explosive coal dust. It also identified several areas for improvement for the MSHA including its overall enforcement paradigm and the way it conducts internal investigations.

According to MSHA, a spark from a longwall shearer ignited methane gas and coal dust in the Upper Big Branch mine and led to the explosion that left 29 miners dead. In their report, the MSHA points to “multiple examples of systematic, intentional, and aggressive efforts by [the mine owners] to avoid compliance with safety and health standards, and to thwart detection of that non-compliance by federal and state regulators.”

Study links diesel exhaust in mines to lung cancer deaths

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Government scientists report that heavy exposure to diesel exhaust increases the likelihood of lung cancer death. The findings come from a 20-year National Cancer Institute study — the Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study — which investigated non-metal miners exposed to diesel engine exhaust released by underground mining equipment.

The March issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published two complementary papers pointing to significant lung cancer risks associated with working around high levels of diesel exhaust. The first paper — the cohort mortality study —tracks the risk of dying from any cause for 12,315 miners who worked mines in Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio and Wyoming. The second — the case-control study —looks at workers who died from lung cancer to investigate lung cancer risk factors other than diesel exhaust.

Researchers selected non-metal mines because of their relatively low level of exposure to other lung cancer hazards such as radon, silica and asbestos. They found a risk of lung cancer death about 3 times higher among workers heavily exposed to diesel exhaust.

“It was vitally important to undertake a large study of diesel exhaust and lung cancer based on a quantitative assessment of historical exposure, taking into account smoking and other potentially relevant factors in order to estimate lung cancer risk,” said lead author of the case-control study, Debra T. Silverman, Sc.D.

The Mine Safety and Heath Administration limits acceptable occupational exposure to diesel particulate matter in an underground non-metal mine to 160 μg/m³ for an average eight-hour shift. It is unclear how the study findings will impact acceptable exposure levels for miners in the future.

While diesel exhaust has long been suspected as a probable carcinogen, cancer researchers anticipate the International Agency for Research on Cancer will strengthen that classification to “known carcinogen” in June.

Investment in workplace safety boost economic performance, ISSA study confirms

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Investment in workplace safety and health has a direct and measurable cost-benefit potential, according to a recently released study by the International Social Security Association (ISSA).

The study on the economic costs and benefits of prevention investments, coordinated by the ISSA, compared data on interventions and analysed practices in 300 companies in 15 countries.

The results of the study indicate companies witness more than a two and a half time return on the implementation of safety training.

“Promoting safety and health at work not only saves lives, but also makes sound economic sense,” stated Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, ISSA Secretary General. “The study demonstrates that prevention measures are a key contribution not only to the health and well-being of the workforce, but also to the economic performance of the enterprise and the sustainability of social security schemes.”