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What’s ahead with MSHA on powered haulage?

By |  June 22, 2021
Photo by Pit & Quarry staff.

MSHA characterized eight of 2021’s 16 mining fatalities as powered haulage accidents. Photo: P&Q Staff

Mining fatalities remain near historic lows, with 2020 marking the sixth straight year industry fatalities were below 30.

Still, 2021 is outpacing 2020 based on Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) data, with 16 fatal accidents happening this year through June 14. Ten mining fatalities occurred between Jan. 1 and June 14 in 2020.

An eight-day 2021 stretch between June 2 and June 9 produced four mining fatalities – two of which MSHA classified as powered haulage accidents. Three of the four fatal accidents occurred in underground operations.

Consider, too, that MSHA classified eight of this year’s 16 fatalities (50 percent) as powered haulage accidents. The first four 2021 fatalities were classified as such, as were two of the last three.

Additionally, MSHA characterized seven of last year’s 29 fatalities (24 percent) as powered haulage accidents. So it is expected that the agency, now operating under the Biden administration, will put forth a rule addressing powered haulage some time in 2021.

Headshot: Bill Doran, Ogletree Deakins

Doran

“Their (MSHA) big priority clearly is crystalline silica, but first in the pipeline is going to be the power haulage regulations,” says Bill Doran, shareholder of the Washington, D.C., office at Ogletree Deakins, who spoke June 3 at the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. “It’s already at OMB (the Office of Management & Budget). We’ll probably see it published in the Federal Register within the next 60 days or so.”

Although a powered haulage rule is not yet publicly available, Doran has a sense of what the rule might contain.

“If you read between the lines and sort of ‘off-the-record’ comments by MSHA, the impression is that it’s going to be somewhat of a benign regulation in that it’s going to require companies to put together a power haulage plan that will establish a variety of different requirements,” Doran says. “But it won’t necessarily dictate what those requirements are. You’ll have to have a plan.”

Annual fatalities

While mining fatalities will not be at an all-time low in 2021, the industry is once again trending around a historically low figure.

MSHA fatality data stretches back to 1911, a year when 883 miners died. An all-time high of 983 fatalities was recorded in 1917, but fatalities dropped dramatically in the years that followed.

Mining fatalities dipped below 200 for the first time in 1932, but they did not consistently remain under that mark until 1973. Fatalities dropped to less than 100 in 1981, and they have not exceeded 30 in a single year since 2007.

The lowest mining fatalities mark ever established was 13, which the industry reached in 2017.

Other datapoints

Photo: NSSGA

Former MSHA assistant secretary David Zatezalo said contractors accounted for 41 percent of mine fatalities in 2019. Photo: NSSGA

2020 marked the first year in MSHA’s history with no seat belt-related deaths, and conveyor-related deaths dropped from four in 2017 to one in 2020.

“In 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety & Health Administration focused on improving safety in several areas, including falls from height and truck-loading operations,” says David Zatezalo, former assistant secretary at MSHA. “We also focused on chronic problem areas, such as disproportionate accidents among contractors and inexperienced miners.

“In 2019, contractor deaths accounted for 41 percent of deaths at mines,” Zatezalo adds. “In 2020, they were 28 percent.”

As required, MSHA inspected all underground mines at least four times per year and surface mines at least twice per year in 2020 – a year when 15 percent of inspectors self-identified as high risk for COVID-19 under Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines.

About 230,000 miners work across 11,500 metal/nonmetal mines in the U.S., MSHA says, while 64,000 work in the nation’s 1,000 coal mines.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

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

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