Are you red or green?

By |  April 1, 2015

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) introduced a new web display. It reports operator performance regarding Rules to Live By (RLB) compliance. Operators who have a higher-than-average rate of RLB safety violations are marked in red. Those who have a lower rate than the national average are marked in green.

This is a significant – and highly consequential – dividing line. Operators reported “in the red” on MSHA’s website will feel the brunt of enforcement.

MSHA developed the RLB emphasis program to draw attention to violations associated with fatal accidents. MSHA believes enforcement of these standards will raise safety consciousness and reduce serious injuries and fatalities. Thirty-eight metal/nonmetal mining deaths prompted increased emphasis from October 2013 through February 2015.

Increases in enforcement can be reflected in impact inspections that usually generate a high volume of citations, or “spot inspections” that focus on particular problems MSHA identifies. Operators “in the green” would experience less enforcement. Operators with no more than three RLB violations are reported in black, and they’re not candidates for special attention absent other considerations.

Anyone can search MSHA’s website ( for a mine’s RLB record by entering the mine’s nine-digit identification number (without dashes). Inspectors will have this information in their inspection files, and operators will need to monitor their own status regularly.

Nineteen standards have been designated as Rules to Live By for metal/nonmetal mines:

§ 56.9101 – Operating speeds and control of equipment
§ 56.12017 – Work on power circuits
§ 56.14101(a) – Brake performance
§ 56.14105 – Procedures during repairs or maintenance
§ 56.14130(g) – Seat belts shall be worn by equipment operators
§ 56.14131(a) – Seat belts shall be provided and worn in haul trucks
§ 56.14205 – Machinery, equipment and tools used beyond design
§ 56.14207 – Parking procedures for unattended equipment
§ 56.15005 – Safety belts and lines
§ 56.16002(c) – Bins, hoppers, silos, tanks and surge piles
§ 56.16009 – Staying clear of suspended loads
§ 56.20011 – Barricades and warning signs
§ 57.3360 – Ground support use
§ 46.7(a) – New task training
§ 56.3130 – Wall, bank and slope stability
§ 56.3200 – Correction of hazardous conditions
§ 56.14100(b) – Safety defects; examination, correction and records
§ 56.15020 – Life jackets and belts
§ 57.14100(b) – Safety defects; examination, correction and records

MSHA is directing inspectors to be proactive not only in enforcement but also in communicating information that will help operators realize what they can do to maintain safety and avoid elevated enforcement. MSHA inspectors will do walk-and-talks during inspections at mines. They will discuss RLB standards and the importance of RLB compliance. They will emphasize safety examinations and miner training as key measures to prevent accidents.

During inspector walk-and-talks, MSHA plans to raise operator sensitivity to safety issues; encourage operator attention to training as a means of prevention; focus attention on people conducting workplace safety examinations; and emphasize the importance of pre-operation examinations for mobile equipment operators.

MSHA will also delve into the competence of people making examinations of work areas and equipment. Inspectors will issue citations when they believe an operator has assigned a less-than-fully competent person.

MSHA regulations state this: “A competent person designated by the operator shall examine each workplace at least once each shift for conditions, which may adversely affect safety and health.” Also, “’competent person’ means a person having abilities and experience that fully qualify him to perform the duty to which he is assigned.”

MSHA considers thorough and effective task training to be immensely important, and the evaluation of the trainee’s competence and readiness is as important as the instruction and practice under observation. Each change of assignment that could affect a miner’s safety or health must be accompanied by preparatory task training.

Changes from one model of mobile equipment to another require task training if there are differences in controls, maneuverability or information in the manufacturer’s equipment manual. Changes in operating environment might also require new task training. Operating a track dozer in snow or ice, for example, requires adjustments for unique hazards.

In a stakeholder meeting, MSHA described incident after incident resulting in deaths, disabling injuries or near misses. Included were instances of miners getting caught in moving machinery, raised truck beds hitting overhead power lines, vehicles out of control due to unsafe handling, unblocked equipment crushing people performing maintenance, tools dropped from overhead that struck people below, falls of people from elevated workplaces, arc flashes, ground failures and rock falls.

Accidents happen when people make mistakes. Miners make mistakes when they disregard hazards, when they do things they know they should not do, or when they take unsafe shortcuts. They make mistakes when they allow their attention to wander.

Heavy industry and heavy equipment require constant vigilance. MSHA is not overseeing miners. MSHA regulates operators, and MSHA is trying to pressure operators to increase oversight of their employees for safe conduct and safety conditions.

Take note

Anyone can search MSHA’s website for a mine’s Rules to Live By record. Simply enter the mine’s nine-digit identification number.

Legal editor Michael T. Heenan is an attorney at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, one of the nation’s largest labor and safety law firms. He can be reached at

Photo credit: Max Wolfe / Foter / CC BY

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About the Author:

Allison Kral is the former senior digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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