Prioritizing the reduction of powered haulage accidents

By and |  June 8, 2018

The ongoing efforts to address the Trent in powered haulage fatal accidents in an example of collaborations between mine operators and MSHA. Photo by Joe McCarthy

In our law practice, we often find ourselves in compliance and enforcement circumstances where mine operators are challenging positions taken by the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA).

These situations sometimes lead to litigation. Regardless of whether the parties end up in court, however, these circumstances often produce strong feelings on both sides about the motivations underlying each argument.

These disputes can create the impression that the industry and the agency cannot find common ground to cooperate toward the important goal of enhancing safety for miners. The reality, however, is not necessarily this stark.

While disputes about regulatory interpretation, inconsistent enforcement and management safety emphasis certainly have a place in maintaining a transparent and effective system for delivering a safe workplace, these should not blur the fact there is also a great deal of collaboration between mine operators, miners and MSHA on solving safety problems. The ongoing effort to address the trend in powered haulage fatal accidents is an excellent example.

Mining’s team effort

All segments of the mining community recognize critical statistics, which serve as a call to arms to find solutions. Powered haulage, which encompasses mobile equipment and conveyors, accounted for 50 percent of the fatal accidents at all mining operations, including coal, in 2017.

According to MSHA, of the seven fatal accidents at all mining operations in 2018, four involved powered haulage. Since the beginning of 2016, 12 of the 31 fatal accidents at metal-nonmetal operations involved powered haulage, including two of the three metal-nonmetal accidents in 2018.

These metal-nonmetal accidents – since the beginning of 2016 – involved similar themes. For instance, six of these accidents involved loss of control leading to over-travel of a berm or dump point; three involved collisions between heavy equipment and light vehicles; and two involved personnel being struck by their own mobile equipment. The final accident involved a conveyor entanglement during maintenance operations.

Although investigations for some of these accidents have not yet concluded, similar themes are also evident in the citations and orders that were issued to date. They include allegations of the violation of the 30 C.F.R. § 56.14131(a) (seat belts); 30 C.F.R. § 56.9101 (failure to maintain control of equipment); 30 C.F.R. § 56.14207 (vehicle left unattended in drive and/or without parking brake engaged); and 30 C.F.R. § 46.7 (task training).

In response to these tragic events, the mining community joined together to raise awareness and identify potential solutions. MSHA announced a powered haulage safety initiative, focused on outreach with operators and miners to identify possible gaps in training and best practices that can avoid the scenarios that produced recent accidents. As a part of this effort, the agency solicited best practices from the industry. The response was substantial and has opened up a positive dialogue in the industry.

The best practices provided by the industry formed the basis for a recent stakeholder conference call at the end of April. During that call, a number of best practices were discussed – including technology enhancements (cameras, proximity detection systems, seatbelt interlock systems); traffic management strategy improvements (separate roadways for large and small equipment, separate parking areas); and training upgrades (accident re-enactment videos and equipment operator communication emphasis).

Assistant Secretary of Labor David Zatezalo emphasized the agency was not necessarily in a position to do any rulemaking on these best practices, but wanted to essentially provide a conduit for exchanging this information among operators. It was indicated, however, the powered haulage safety initiative would initially focus on the standards that the agency already has at its disposal to address specific targets – large and small vehicle traffic and communication, seat belts and conveyor belt safety.

In addition to their cooperation with MSHA’s initiative, mine operators and mining associations stepped up in alerting miners through conferences, training and industry publications regarding the hazards posed by powered haulage and the safety procedures that can protect them. This joint effort highlights a commitment to accomplish a shared goal and provides an effective team model for future safety success.

Bill Doran and Margo Lopez are with the national labor, employment and safety law firm Ogletree Deakins.

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