MSHA assistant secretary addresses NSSGA convention

By |  March 7, 2018


David Zatezalo, assistant secretary of the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), offered insights on the agency’s rulemaking efforts and a sense of his approach to policy during the closing general session of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association‘s (NSSGA) Annual Convention in Houston.

MSHA’s workplace examination rule was among the areas Zatezalo addressed.

“That rule, which has been stayed twice, is now in the final stages of approval. I expect we will have it approved soon. I don’t think it [puts] hardship on anybody.”

Zatezalo, who has been on the job at MSHA for almost four months, touched on the dangers associated with crystalline silica, as well. Although MSHA tabled implementation of its own silica rule, Zatezalo indicated that his intention at some point is to increase enforcement on silica.

“We will be taking actions on silica and will be emphasizing compliance on silica,” he says.

Additionally, Zatezalo offered some perspective on historical inefficiencies with MSHA inspections. One of Zatezalo’s goals is to “blur the lines of distinction” between the coal and metal/nonmetal mining sectors.

“One of the things that used to strike me as crazy [was] I had a coal mine that also crushed limestone,” Zatezalo says. “I had coal inspectors who were three miles away who came and inspected the mine.”

At the same time, MSHA sent a completely different set of inspectors to handle the limestone operation. To Zatezalo, that makes no sense.

“They stayed overnight and then rode six hours back to do about a two-hour inspection because it was metal/nonmetal at my stone plant,” he says.

Zatezalo shared a second example of historical inefficiency at MSHA, pointing to Alaska, which has one coal mine.

“Twice a year we load up people along with equipment and fly them up to Anchorage [and] put them up for a few days,” Zatezalo says. “It’s hard to find hotels up there and then fly them back. We do that twice a year, every year. Yet, we have a metal/nonmetal office in Anchorage, Alaska.”

A solution Zatezalo sees is “blending” the agency’s district offices.

“Some people would view [MSHA] as being organized with nine coal districts and six metal/nonmetal districts,” he says. “I view it as there are 15 districts.”

Zatezalo also discussed mining fatalities, citing historical improvements producers have made over the last century.

“I reckon if you went back to 1917 and you told people in 100 years we would be at 28 [in 2017] and we wouldn’t be happy they would think we are nuts,” he says.

Of the 28 mining fatalities last year, four occurred when large vehicles hit smaller vehicles. This is one area where the mining industry can do better, Zatezalo says.

“Since 2003 we’ve had 23 fatalities of this nature,” he says. “This is unacceptable.”

The same goes for those who don’t wear seat belts. Too many accidents continue to happen because operators are not wearing them, Zatezalo adds.

“It’s very hard to enforce,” he says. “I would tell you from my own experience that my father would never wear a seat belt. Toward the end of his life I bought him a car and he started wearing a seat belt. He said the dings and alarms made it easier to put the seat belt on.”

“These things are important,” Zatezalo adds. “They are patterns of fatality. They are the kinds of things we need to go after. Some of them may require legislative solutions, some of them don’t.”

At the NSSGA convention, Zatezalo also touched on the fact that a small percentage of operators do not pay their fines and assessments on time. Ninety-three percent of operators do pay them on time, but he stressed that not paying fines and assessments is a violation of the Mine Act.

“For people who are having difficulty [with] cash flows you can always work out a plan with MSHA or the U.S. Treasury,” he says.

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

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