On February 12, 2018, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) held its first stakeholder/quarterly training call of the year, which featured Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health David G. Zatezalo. During his opening remarks, Zatezalo expressed the agency’s commitment to operator outreach and training. These themes continued throughout the call. Following Assistant Secretary Zatezalo’s brief opening remarks, MSHA representatives for both the coal and metal/nonmetal divisions reviewed fatalities for 2017 and the fourth quarter, followed by a review of suggested best practices to prevent future similar occurrences. The assistant secretary then completed the call with a brief regulatory update and questions and answers.
In the metal/nonmetal mining industry, there were 12 surface mine fatalities and 1 underground mine fatality in 2017. At underground coal mines in 2017, there were four surface coal fatalities, two fatalities at surface coal facilities, and nine fatalities. Powered haulage was the leading cause of fatal accidents at both metal/nonmetal and coal mines. Both sectors saw seven fatalities related to powered haulage accidents. We expect the agency will make this a primary focus in the field.
Following its accident review, the agency revealed a new training video addressing safe practices for working on dredges. MSHA developed the video with the assistance of several mine operators and trade associations. The video will be made available online. MSHA has invited other interested operators and associations to partner with the agency to develop similar training resources and encouraged interested parties to e-mail the agency with suggestions.
Assistant Secretary Zatezalo ended the call with a regulatory update, including an update on the following topics: (1) the Final Rule for Examinations of Working Places in Metal and Nonmetal Mines, (2) the upcoming March 16, 2018, enforcement deadline for the standard on proximity detection systems for continuous mining machines in underground coal mines, (3) retrospective study of the standard for lowering miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust, including continuous personal dust monitors (the Dust Rule), and (4) MSHA’s review of stakeholder comments on deregulation. While he declined to provide a date, Assistant Secretary Zatezalo renewed MSHA’s promise that the agency will hold at least one stakeholder meeting in each district to provide compliance assistance on the new metal/nonmetal workplace examination rule once the agency finishes reviewing stakeholder comments. Assistant Secretary Zatezalo then reminded underground coal mine operators that all continuous mining machines that were manufactured prior to March 16, 2015, without a proximity detection system must comply with the requirements of the proximity detection regulations by March 16, 2018.
MSHA will begin its retrospective study this year of the Dust Rule. MSHA requested public comment on its retrospective review of the Dust Rule in the fall of 2017 to assist the agency in evaluating the effectiveness of the rule. While Assistant Secretary Zatezalo expressed that he thought the study was premature, he maintained that MSHA is committed to it.
Finally, MSHA is still reviewing comments and suggestions that were submitted in response to the agency’s request for input on potential deregulation or modification of standards. Some of the comments were reported to have merit while others were not. Assistant Secretary Zatezalo highlighted the age of many MSHA regulations and cited the electrical standards and backup alarm standards as examples. He promised that the agency will continue to evaluate its regulations to accommodate advances in technology and will update outdated regulations if necessary. MSHA will update stakeholders once its review is complete.