MSHA proposes new written safety programs for surface mines with more than six operators running mobile haulage fleets

The US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration have announced a proposed rule to require mine operators employing six or more miners to develop a written safety program for mobile and powered haulage equipment (excluding belt conveyors) at surface mines and surface areas of underground mines. This proposed rule is one of several actions MSHA has taken to reduce fatal and nonfatal injuries involving surface mobile equipment used at mines and to improve safety and health.

Under the proposed rule, mine operators would implement a written safety program including actions to identify hazards and risks to reduce accidents, injuries and fatalities related to surface mobile equipment. Mine operators would have the flexibility to devise a safety program for their specific mining conditions and operations. In addition, MSHA would encourage its state grantees to provide training to address hazards and risks involving surface mobile equipment in small mining operations.

The background is stated as follows: “At surface mines and at surface areas of underground mines, a wide range of mobile and powered haulage equipment is in use. Examples of such equipment are bulldozers, front-end loaders, skid steers, and haul trucks. While accidents at mines are declining, accidents involving mobile and powered haulage equipment are still a leading cause of fatalities in mining. Of all 739 fatalities that occurred at US mines between 2003 and 2018, 109 were caused by hazards related to working near or operating mobile and powered haulage equipment at mines with six or more miners. To reduce the number of injuries and fatalities involving mobile and powered haulage equipment, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched several actions, including providing technical assistance, developing training materials, and gathering information from the public and mining stakeholders. MSHA is now proposing a rule to improve safety in the use of surface mobile equipment, defined as mobile and powered haulage equipment (except belt conveyors), at surface mines and surface areas of underground mines. This proposal is based on the information gathered from many stakeholders…”

Feedback was varied. Interestingly, while some emphasised the use of technologies to achieve this goal – a majority of commenters noted “that the application of engineering controls or technologies needs further review by MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) before any regulatory changes are made.” One commenter noted that because the issues MSHA raised vary at different mines and with different types of equipment and operations, it is critical to understand how specific hazards at a mine would be addressed through new technologies. Other commenters asserted that the best outcomes occur when mine operators and their employees partner with other stakeholders such as NIOSH and equipment manufacturers, to introduce innovative solutions into the workplace through the use of new technologies.

So MSHA has been most persuaded by comments on the use of safety programs. “The Agency agrees with these commenters that mine operators should be allowed to tailor safety programs specifically to their mining conditions and operations, so that operators could: (1) Systematically and continuously evaluate their mine operations to identify hazards and (2) determine how to eliminate or mitigate risks and hazards related to operating and working near surface mobile equipment, which includes mobile and powered haulage equipment (except belt conveyors). The Agency further agrees that such a flexible approach to reducing hazards and risks (eg not imposing universal mandates) would be more effective since mine operators would be able to develop and implement safety programs that work for their operation, mining conditions, and miners. Taking into account all comments and information received, this proposal would require written safety programs for surface mobile equipment at surface mines and surface areas of underground mines with six or more miners.”

The written safety program would list actions that mine operators would take to identify hazards and reduce risks, develop equipment maintenance and repair schedules, evaluate technologies, and train miners. The proposal would provide mine operators with the flexibility to tailor the written safety program to meet the specific needs of their operations and unique mining conditions. Under the proposal, mine operators would be required to evaluate and update the written safety program whenever necessary to manage safety risks associated with their surface mobile equipment appropriately.