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Lopez: Distractions a possible root cause of fatal accidents

By |  July 19, 2022
Ogletree Deakins' Margo Lopez says driver distractions could be at the root of recent powered haulage incidents. Photo: P&Q Staff

Powered haulage safety is currently a focus of the Mine Safety & Health Administration. Photo: P&Q Staff

April and May passed this year without a single mining fatality, but the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) reports that three fatal accidents happened between June 17 and 20.

MSHA classified two of the three as machinery incidents while the third was characterized as a slip or fall of person.

Based on MSHA reporting, no fatal accidents happened between June 21 and mid-July.

“Fatalities are always terrible occurrences in the industry and not something we ever want to see,” says Margo Lopez, shareholder of the Washington, D.C., office at Ogletree Deakins, a labor and employment law firm. “We also do see a fair number of near misses and other situations that cause serious injuries for our miners.”

Lopez, who spoke at the 2022 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, noted at the magazine’s June 7-8 event that powered haulage is a leading cause of the safety incidents occurring of late within the industry. MSHA has identified powered haulage as an area of safety concern, and it is developing a rule to address powered haulage incidents.

“I think the next final rule we’re going to see will be promulgated by the agency in the coming months,” Lopez says. “It will address powered haulage safety. MSHA’s rule likely will require operators to have in place a safety program designed to facilitate such things as  good traffic control and safe operation of mobile equipment to prevent things like trucks rolling over the edge of a highwall or overturning in other ways, and vehicles striking pedestrians or other equipment.”

Lopez points out that mining companies have long been emphasizing safety in this area. 

“This is the kind of thing we train people on,” she says. “Our miners understand traffic control. Our contractors understand how to drive the trucks we’ve hired them to drive. They’ve been trained on it repeatedly, and a number of the people involved in these incidents have a long history in those particular jobs.”

A question that must be answered, then, is why exactly so many fatal accidents are still happening.

“One thing that a number of people have identified is the role that distraction plays in all of this,” she says. “People aren’t paying attention to the work they’re doing. They’re taking shortcuts. They’re not recognizing the hazards. They’ve become what I call ‘numb’ to the hazards because they’re used to working in this environment. For some reason or another, they forget what they know is right and they take a chance. They just jump right in and do something without taking time to stop and think about it. They skip safety steps. They may be distracted by something on their mind or on their cell phone, and they fail to appreciate the risk of what they are about to do.”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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