Mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. There are countless factors to be aware of when ensuring mining safety – from mining machines to employee conduct to working mine equipment, there are many components of MSHA certification. In April 2023, the mine safety and health administration (MSHA) found over 300 safety violations across 20 mines in 15 states.
Table of contents
2.1. New regulations
2.2. More enforcement
2.3. Increased personnel
2.4. Whistleblower cases
What safety concerns has MSHA identified?
In one month alone, the American Mine Safety and Health Administration identified 335 safety and compliance violations. 92 of these violations were deemed “significant or substantial”, and five were declared “unwarrantable”. Whereas significant or substantial violations are those reasonably likely to lead to an injury or incident, an unwarrantable violation denotes a problem beyond simple negligence, such as one that:
- Has existed for a long time
- Persists despite prior warnings
- Mine supervisors are aware of, but have not taken steps to fix
Unwarrantable violations relate to things that endanger mining safety, like poorly maintained mining equipment, improperly-built structures, or malfunctioning mining machines. If a mine is found to have committed an unwarrantable violation, they will have a 90-day probation period during which to correct it, after which the probation is either lifted, or the mine is required to close.
Across the rest of 2023, the MSHA identified nearly one thousand violations, 257 of which were significant or substantial, and 18 of which were unwarrantable. That means 28% of observed mine safety violations were at least substantial. The most frequent violations identified by MSHA impact inspections are:
- Accumulation of combustible materials
- Moving machine parts
- Electrical conductors
- Inadequate ventilation
- Late or improper submission of reports
- Faulty alarms
- Lack of fall protection
- Inadequate miner safety equipment, like PPE
- Damaged or malfunctioning mining equipment
- Lack of roof safety
- Weak or missing safety guards
- Badly insulated or loose electrical wiring
- Poor grounding systems
- Excess rock dust and other byproducts
- Unsafe access to areas of the mine
These are a lot of factors to consider, so it can be helpful to track them all using a mining checklist. In addition to making sure all of these factors are up to MSHA certification standards, mine operators are responsible for ensuring that all employees follow agreed-upon procedures and are behaving safely. Untrained miners are dangerous to themselves and to their fellow workers.
How will the MSHA ensure compliance with MSHA certification requirements?
The MSHA is poised to increase oversight and inspection efforts in 2023 and beyond. New regulations, policies, and inspection protocols are on the horizon for the mining world. Here are five key developments expected in the industry.
There are two regulations that have been on the MSHA radar recently, concerning silica and power haulage. They’ve been on the agenda since 2022. The first regulation, concerning silica, would lower the limit of silica that is allowed in respirable dust to .05 mg/m; the amount already stipulated by organizations like OSHA.
The regulation on power haulage was first proposed in 2021, and would require mine operators with more than six miners to write down a safety program to ensure proper use of haulage equipment. These safety programs would also include steps taken to identify and address haulage-related safety hazards.
Currently, the MSHA is required to inspect surface mines twice per year and underground mines four times per year. However, there is nothing stopping them from conducting additional inspections. According to the MSHA violations tracker, inspections were already more frequent in 2022 than in 2021.
The mining safety and health administration has seen many workers retire, and will need to bring on new hires if they hope to ramp up their enforcement efforts. Currently, many inspectors are lacking experience, which makes things harder for both MSHA and the mines they inspect.
A whistleblower is someone who provides insider information regarding safety violations and other sorts of wrongdoing in the mine where they work. Whistleblowers have several protections under a law called Section 105(c), which the MSHA is adamant about upholding.
Prior initiatives to educate miners on their whistleblowing rights resulted in an increase of whistleblower reports, and similar education is expected to be an MSHA priority in 2023.
How can you keep your miners safe?
Changes in MSHA activity reflect the obligations you have to refine the way you approach miner safety in your organization. One way to do that is by conducting internal inspections more frequently. That way, you can keep track of hazards in the mine, make sure your mining equipment is functioning, and address the causes of any incidents.
Technology such as smart equipment and AI modeling also makes mining safer. Drones, robots, and artificial intelligence help you by providing more information about the conditions and resources in a worksite, allowing you to design your mining operations more effectively. Certain robots can also perform routine tasks which pose regular safety risks.
Wearable technology and tracking such as RFID technology helps you ensure the welfare of your workers. IoT wearable equipment can detect air quality, monitor vital signs, and more. RFID tags specifically record environmental conditions, detect hazards, and track equipment usage. Monitoring mining equipment helps improve maintenance and refueling.