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Seeking out solutions on mine safety

By |  August 30, 2022
Three of the 16 fatalities the Mine Safety & Health Administration recorded through the end of July were classified as powered haulage. Photo: P&Q Staff

Three of the 16 fatalities the Mine Safety & Health Administration recorded through the end of July were classified as powered haulage. Photo: P&Q Staff

Ogletree Deakins’ Margo Lopez explored factors at play in recent mining accidents during this year’s Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference.

The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) reported 16 mining fatalities through the first seven months of 2022. That’s six fewer than the 2021 total through last July.

At this pace, 2022 full-year fatalities would be down from 2021’s total of 32, yet still exceed single-year totals from 2015 to 2020.

During a discussion on safety at the 2022 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, Ogletree Deakins’ Margo Lopez shared what she sees as possible factors in recent fatalities.

“It’s not necessarily inexperienced miners,” says Lopez, a shareholder at the Washington, D.C., law firm. “What we’re finding is some of the people involved in fatal accidents in the last year had been in the industry for a long time. Some of these accidents have occurred because people were cutting corners, trying to do more with less – and that includes time. Sometimes miners – for whatever reason – feel a time crunch, and they just jump right in and do something without taking the time to do it right.”

Lopez is also concerned about instances when supervisors and managers do tasks they’re not experienced in. The same goes for when supervisors and managers direct employees to do tasks with which they’re not as familiar as those on the ground.

“To me, some of it really comes down to just taking the time to think about what you’re doing before you do it, recognizing the hazards that are there and making sure you’re using the proper equipment and procedures to address it,” Lopez says.

Other concerns

Ogletree Deakins’ Margo Lopez says managers should encourage their employees to come forward if they see critical operational steps skipped that present safety issues. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Ogletree Deakins’ Margo Lopez says managers should encourage their employees to come forward if they see critical operational steps skipped that present safety issues. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Another concern Lopez has surrounding operator safety is on-the-job distractions. While many operators believe they’re capable of multitasking, operators realistically can only focus on one thing at a time.

“Awareness training can be very helpful in making people aware that [distractions are] out there and can lead to injuries,” Lopez says. “You really need to stay focused on what you’re doing in the moment.”

Lopez encourages operational leaders to empower employees to speak up and share when details are being rushed or steps are being skipped.

“[There are] a lot of good behavior-based programs out there to implement at your operation that actually reward people for making safety observations and speaking up when they observe someone doing something unsafe,” she says. “That gives people permission to make a suggestion to a co-worker without looking like they’re a tattletale or a know-it-all. This can also support recruiting and retention. People like to see that they’re a part of a culture that encourages that type of polite but focused correction when you see an issue. People can also be rewarded for safe behaviors.”

Powered haulage perspective

Also, Lopez says MSHA’s new rulemaking on surface mobile equipment is another factor affecting operators. She says MSHA may require producers and contractors to identify new safety-focused technologies to add to equipment.

Of the 16 fatalities MSHA recorded through the end of July, three were classified as powered haulage.

“For manufacturers, it’s something to think about,” Lopez says. “What do your customers want? What would be feasible for them to add to the equipment in terms of proximity detection or cameras? Even data collection is helpful because it can collect safety-related data.

“Are they speeding? Are they cutting corners too sharply,” Lopez adds. “I think MSHA eventually is going to require new safety features to be installed if they’re available. It’s something to think about both from a consumer and producer standpoint.”


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