The industry reexamines safety following mine fatality uptick

By |  June 27, 2022

Editor’s note: This article was finalized June 13 for Pit & Quarry’s July 2022 Market Reference Guide. Since that date, the Mine Safety & Health Administration has reported three additional mine fatalities through June 27.

Photo: kozmoat98/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Powered haulage continues to be a priority at the Mine Safety & Health Administration. Photo: kozmoat98/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Image

The mining industry experienced a significant uptick in fatalities over the last 12 months.

The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) reported 37 fatalities in 2021, marking the first year mine fatalities reached 30 or more since 2014. Between 2015 and 2020, mine fatalities totaled between 25 and 29.

In 2022, 12 mining fatalities took place between Jan. 1 and June 13. Of note at press time, though, is that the most recent fatality reported by MSHA occurred March 22, meaning each of this year’s fatalities took place during the first quarter, according to the agency’s website.

This year’s fatalities total through June 13 is trending behind the same stretch of 2021. That same period last year produced 16 fatalities.

Of this year’s 12 fatalities, five occurred at surface mines while seven occurred at underground mines. Additionally, coal and metal/nonmetal operations each make up half of the year’s running total.

Margo Lopez of national labor, employment and safety law firm Ogletree Deakins spoke at the 2022 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, where she shared her belief that distraction is a driving cause behind the recent uptick in fatalities.

“Unfortunately, the number of fatalities has been trending up,” Lopez says. “This last 12 months is no exception to that. … People aren’t paying attention to the work that they’re doing. They’re taking shortcuts. They’re not recognizing the hazards. They’ve become what I call sort of ‘numb’ to the hazards because they’re seeing it all the time. For some reason or other, they take a chance. They just jump right in and do something without taking time to stop and think about it.”

MSHA tracks metal/nonmetal fatalities going back to 1911. An all-time high of 983 fatalities was recorded for metal/nonmetal in 1917. Metal/nonmetal fatalities dropped to fewer than 100 in 1981. And prior to 2021, they had not exceeded 30 since 2007.

Addressing powered haulage

MSHA characterized three, or 25 percent, of this year’s fatalities as powered haulage accidents. That rate of powered haulage-related deaths trends below 2021’s year-end total, in which 16 fatalities, nearly 50 percent, were classified as such.

MSHA indicated it will continue to prioritize powered haulage safety. The agency published a proposed rule in 2021 that would require mine operators employing six or more miners to develop a written safety program for mobile and powered haulage equipment at surface mines and surface areas of underground mines. Additionally, Lopez says she expects to see MSHA promulgate a final rule on powered haulage in the coming months.

“Traffic-control vehicles, going over high walls or overturning in other ways, vehicles striking pedestrians, those are the types of [powered haulage] incidents we’re seeing,” she says.

“In my mind, one of the real concerning things about this is [that] this is the kind of thing we train people on,” Lopez adds. “Our miners understand traffic control. Our contractors understand how to drive the trucks that 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.”

Nearly 240,000 miners work at the nation’s 11,610 metal/nonmetal mines, according to MSHA. More than 61,000 work at 970 coal mines across the U.S.

Carly Bemer

About the Author:

Carly Bemer (McFadden) is a former Associate Editor for Pit & Quarry.

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