MSHA Spring Thaw reviews metal/non-metal mining safety regulations

by Jon M. Casey
The February 7, 2017 PACA-MSHA Spring Thaw, sponsored by Pennsylvania Mining Professionals was held at the Holiday Inn Harrisburg-Hershey in Grantville, PA. With approximately 70 attendees present, this daylong safety refresher covered a number of important safety topics that aggregate producers deal with each day. These included avoiding serious accidents and fatalities, noise and dust conditions in the workplace, how to find potential hazardous conditions and pending MSHA silica dust regulations for quarries.

Anne Kelhart, director of Safety and Human Resources for Martin Stone Quarries, Inc., began the day’s activities by discussing MSHA monthly initiatives and MSHA’s desire to collaborate with companies to develop “Best Practices” information for industry training. Kelhart noted that Pennsylvania is an active state when it comes to mining — both coal and aggregates. She said that during 2016, the average number of safety citations was three per facility. The average fine per mine was $1,343.00. Of those, 25 percent were Significant and Substantial (S&S) citations. This is an improvement over past years. Additionally, overall, noise and dust levels are down across the state.

Kelhart said that because of the changes in the coal industry in recent years, MSHA has reassigned some of the coal mining inspectors to the metal and non-metal mining (MNM) side of the agency. As a result, the “new” inspectors could have a different approach to inspection procedures. She said it would take some time for the inspectors to become more familiar with the differences between the two kinds of mining.

Adele Abrams, Esq., owner of Law Office of Adele Abrams, a nationally recognized MSHA/OSHA legal counsel, added that one item that comes to mind in this subtle change in inspectors is how they define situations. She recalled a citation where an inspector used the coal industry term “impoundment” instead of the MNM term “embankment” in the citation. She said that in the coal industry, while the hazards are no more or less hazardous, the terminology within the industry is different. Accordingly, penalties or fines could be different from what aggregate producers might expect based on the penalty associated with the respective terms.

Near misses

Kelhart said MSHA has begun reporting “Near Misses” in much the same way it had made miners aware of fatalities with their “Fatalgrams.” This increased information has helped create a clearer picture of where there are safety issues within the aggregate mining industry that need improvement. Kelhart reviewed the regional near misses that affected the Northeast region, which includes Pennsylvania.

As a part of avoiding the near miss and fatal occurrences in quarries, Kelhart highlighted the “Stay Out-Stay Alive” program, an MSHA initiative that is designed to be a form of community outreach for quarry operators to send the message to everyone that swimming in a quarry can be life threatening. She said MSHA offers all sorts of giveaway items to distribute to students as a way to discourage abandoned quarry swimming. She said the water in flooded, abandoned quarries is extremely cold (mid-30 degree range) just below the surface because of the steep inclines of the sides of the pit, the lack of sunlight that reaches the water and the extreme depths that these narrow bodies of water contain. Unsuspecting swimmers think they are jumping into warm water and are unprepared for the extreme cold temperatures just below the surface. This sudden and drastic temperature change can cause a shock to the swimmer from which they do not recover, and they drown.

“They jump in and they don’t come up!” she said. This stratification of warm and cold water is called a thermocline. Kelhart encouraged quarry operators who have water filled, abandoned quarry sites to use the MSHA materials promoting the “Stay Out-Stay Alive” program.

Workplace exams still pending

In another presentation segment, Abrams joined Kelhart to discuss the pending changes in the Workplace Exam criteria for MNM mines. Because of the wording of the original documentation, there were some conflicts in what might be practical in actually accomplishing what MSHA was seeking in the new exam. While many of the mines are already performing these inspections in this way, the retention of the details found during the inspection, and the hazards found, are the changes that will increase the workload of mines.

Abrams and Kelhart’s joint, extemporaneous discussion of this new rule set to go into effect on May 23, 2017, and their additional suggestions on how to effectively document and retain information that MSHA requires as part of this regulatory process, went on for a full hour. Questions from several of the 70 attendees, and answers from Abrams and Kelhart helped prepare attendees for inspections in the coming months in case the new regulation is not rescinded before the deadline.

Preventing mishaps

Randy Newcomer, owner of Complete Safety Solutions, Inc., presented a series of photos supplied by MSHA that give examples of real-life equipment and environmental situations that demonstrate hazards in and around the quarry. This Power Point presentation is designed for quarry workers to get a better visual idea of what needs to be found when inspecting the worksite for hazards. While some of the slides revealed situations that were obviously hazardous, other photos showed hazards that might be overlooked by workers because of their familiarity with the condition over time. This evolves from a safe to an unsafe situation.

For example, corrosion problems and bent or damaged steel that may not appear hazardous, are concerns. Heavy equipment going over high walls and ramps where berms were not adequately provided is another ongoing problem. He said that when workers are doing inspections, if there is any doubt, calling in a person who is competent and skilled in that area — such as a structural engineer — is a wise decision.

Newcomer encouraged attendees to consider job site training with workers who do inspections of these kinds, using MSHA’s material on how to spot safety concerns. He said that MSHA offers a number of presentations that are extremely helpful and are available at no cost.

In other presentations, Joseph Flick, Adele Abrams and John Palm examined other safety issues. These included dust and noise hazards, pending silica rules for metal/non-metal operations and how to recognize and assess risks at quarry facilities, respectively. These topics will be covered in other NAQN articles. Additional review will be available at the Northeast District-Biennial Meeting Spring Thaw Workshop in Columbus, Ohio April 2-5, 2017. For more information visit the MSHA website at www.msha.gov .

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