2015 was the safest year yet for the U.S. mining industry. MSHA recently released the official figures reporting 28 fatalities for all U.S. mining last year, down from 45 mining-related deaths in 2014. Of the 28 fatalities, 17 were in metal and non-metal mining, while 11 were recorded in coal mining. “While coal mine closures had some effect on the historic low number of mining deaths, actions by MSHA and the mining industry to improve mine safety have been a major factor,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. This is good news as safety initiatives put in place continue to save miners.
MSHA recently issued a safety alert emphasizing the importance of seasonal safety. According to a new safety alert from NSSGA and the MSHA Alliance, slips, trips and falls accounted for 19% of injuries in the aggregates industry during 2014. With colder weather around the corner we need to be more careful when it comes to working in harsher conditions as the risk for slips and falls only increases. Best practices in the alert include:
- Task train all persons to recognize all potential hazardous conditions that can decrease bank or slope stability, and ensure that they understand safe job procedures for elimination of the slopes.
- Train people to recognize the hazards of working near belt conveyors.
- De-energize and block belt conveyors against motion before working near a chute, drive, head, tail or take-up pulley.
- Lock-out and tag-out all energy sources to belt conveyors before working on them.
- Always use fall protection when working where a fall-to-below hazard exists.
- Establish policies and procedures for safely clearing plugged material in a jaw crusher.
- Maintain and use all available methods of communication, such as sirens and radios, to warn people of an impending blast. Establish methods to ensure that all people are out of the blasting area.
- Always wear a life jacket where there is a danger of falling into the water.
“NSSGA encourages all operators to review the alert so they can be prepared to work safely, and demonstrate full compliance with standards addressed in the above-mentioned best practices,” said Joseph Casper, NSSGA vice president of safety.
Now is the time to make sure your safety programs are comprehensive and up to date and that all employees have received the safety training necessary for work. Since 1990, OSHA has not been able to increase the civil penalties it can impose when an employer is cited for a violation. That changed on November 2, when President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Hidden within the act are terms requiring OSHA to significantly increase civil penalties. And this isn’t just a little increase, it is more of a “catch up” adjustment, resulting in a penalty increase of approximately 80 percent. In other words, a $7,000 cap on serious violations will increase to $12,600, and the $70,000 limit on willful and repeat violations will jump to $126,000. After this “catch up” adjustment is made, OSHA will continue to adjust penalties every year based on the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index. Increased penalties will take effect by August 1, 2016.
With cooler days on the horizon, October is often the month that mines begin annual shutdown activities, ranging from disassembling of portable plants and relocation of equipment to, for mines that operate full time, annual repairs. Unfortunately, October is also a month of high fatalities in the metal and nonmetal mining industry. This year, MSHA has launched an initiative to help combat the historically high death rates that occur during the month of October. The initiative includes enhanced enforcement and education and outreach, such as informational “walk and talks” at mine sites. Coal enforcement and personnel from MSHA’s Educational Field and Small Mines Services will assist in these activities by talking to mine operators and miners and calling attention to potentially hazardous tasks and conditions and best mining practices.
Best practices include:
- Identifying hazards through effective workplace exams
- Controlling hazards through a detailed work plan
- Providing effective task training based on the work plan
- Locking out and blocking equipment against hazardous motion
- Providing necessary PPE
For more information, check out this article.
Mining-related accidents can lead to complex lawsuits that require the retention of multiple mining expert witnesses. When it comes time to litigate these lawsuits, there are two common scenarios in which a mining expert witness may be sought. The first scenario is one in which an MSHA inspector issues a mine operator a citation, and a mining expert witness is needed to contest that inspector’s findings in an administrative proceeding to dispute the citation and penalty fine. The other scenario is when a worker is severely injured and seeks recovery for the damages.
Catamount Consulting’s mine operation and safety expert Scott McKenna insists that “the single most important thing a MSHA expert needs to do is to read and know the regulations, inside and out. This is because things in this industry turn on words and clauses in regulations. In other words, the devil is in the details.”
Learn what experts in specific practice areas have to say in the following eight areas of importance when litigating in a mining-related accident case:
- Mind Your Miners
- Define Your Battle Grounds
- The World of Damages
- Learn From Your Expert Witness
- Know the Nuances in the Law
- Administrative Proceedings
- Teaching Over Talking
- Technology is Your Friend