The Mine Safety and Health Administration said it has begun “enhanced” enforcement of its “Rules to Live By” initiative, regulating standards commonly linked to mine deaths, as well as nine underground coal mine exam standards, targeting the greatest risks to miners in underground coal mines.

The agency announced in 2016 that these heightened measures would begin July 1, 2017.

Started in 2010, “Rules to Live By” includes 29 coal mine standards and 20 metal and nonmetal mine standards the agency identified as critical to reducing fatalities in the mining industry. The nine underground coal mine exam standards, published in 2012, address ventilation, methane, roof control, combustible materials, rock dust, equipment guarding and other safeguards. MSHA said these 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 [2010] Upper Big Branch Mine explosion as contributing to the cause of that deadly accident.” The explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia, killed 29 miners.

“While we’ve seen progress in reducing mining deaths associated with both Rules to Live By and the exam rule,” Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, said, “mine operators need to conduct better site inspections and take appropriate action to improve compliance with these standards. That is why we are increasing attention on these critical standards. We urge the mining industry to do the same.”

Beginning July 1, 2017, MSHA said it will increasingly use its web-based “Rules to Live By Calculator” to identify the number of citations and orders issued during the most recent completed inspection periods for which data are available. Inspectors will give mine operators a copy of the results, “encouraging them to use the tools to monitor their own compliance and take action to eliminate violations.” MSHA said, “The results will be added to criteria for consideration of impact inspections, particularly targeting mines with elevated noncompliance of these standards.”

The agency’s analysis of hundreds of U.S. mining fatalities over a 10-year period revealed that fatalities associated with “Rules to Live By” standards have decreased an average of 23 percent. Further, “significant and substantial” citations and orders issued for violations of these standards have declined an average of 37 percent.

Fatalities associated with the exam rule have decreased an average of 22 percent, according to MSHA, and “significant and substantial,” or S&S, citations and orders issued for violations of this standard have declined an average of 45 percent.

The “Rules to Live By” program includes the following:

  • Rules to Live By I: Fatality Prevention – Launched in February 2010, focuses on 24 frequently cited standards (11 in coal mining and 13 in metal and nonmetal mining) that cause or contribute to fatal accidents in the mining industry in nine accident categories.
  • Rules to Live By II: Preventing Catastrophic Accidents – Begun in November 2010, focuses on standards MSHA cited during major disasters that contributed to five or more fatalities over the last 10 years.
  • Rules to Live By III: Preventing Common Mining Deaths – Started in January 2012, focuses on 14 safety standards (eight in coal mining and six in metal and nonmetal mining) cited in at least five mining accidents and resulting in at least five deaths during the 10-year period from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2010.
  • Rules to Live By IV: Preventing Common Mining Deaths – Announced in May 2016, focuses on two safety standards (one in coal mining and one in metal and nonmetal mining) cited as a result of at least five mining accidents and resulting in at least five fatalities during the 10-year period from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2015.