If you operate or work at a metal/nonmetal mine be ready for significant changes on how the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will enforce its workplace examination standards.The MSHA recently issued a policy letter that spells out its latest interpretation of these requirements. Among other things, this letter establishes that MSHA will increase its enforcement of workplace examinations, most notably the qualifications of examiners and the requirements within operator training plans.

The major implications of these interpretations are as follows:

  • Increased scrutiny of an individual designated as a “competent person” by an operator. 
  • Increased scrutiny of mine operators who require all employees to conduct workplace examinations.
  • Requirement that miners be tasked trained for conducting workplace examinations.
  • Liberal use of MSHA’s discretionary powers to revise training plans to specifically include a task training requirement for workplace examinations.
  • Trifecta of citations for the same condition: (1) citation for violation of underlying safety standard; (2) citation for violating workplace examination standards; and (3) citation for training plan violation.
  • Further pressure on operators to give MSHA the “conditions found” during workplace examinations (something that MSHA wants but is not entitled to under the standard).

As a result, mining operators should consider taking the following actions:

  • Inform supervisors and foremen of the new policy and provide subsequent tool box talks to hourly workers.
  • Ensure that miners conducting workplace examinations are “competent persons.” This means miners must be competent to locate safety hazards that are specific to their work areas. This is especially true for operators who require all employees to conduct workplace examinations. 
  • Review you latest approved training plan to see if MSHA inserted a provision requiring task training for workplace examinations. 
  • Ensure that designated examiners are appropriately tasked trained and that training records are retained.
  • Draft a workplace examination form that allows for the separation of the conditions found section.

In conclusion, during the metal and nonmetal session of the latest MSHA stakeholder meeting, Neal Merrifield, Administrator for Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health, repeatedly stated that “nothing is new” in the latest policy statement. He later admitted, however, that inspectors will not be issuing citations based on the new policy letter until after they had a chance to sit down with operators to discuss the changes. The question then arises, if “nothing is new” in the latest policy letter, then why does MSHA feel that it needs to give operators fair notice before it will be enforced? Whatever the answer, it is undoubtedly true that MSHA will have an increased focus on enforcing the workplace examination standards and revising operator training plans.