MSHA workplace exam proposal ill-advised but still time to comment

At a time in which the aggregates industry has seen the lowest injury rate in history, just 2 injuries per 200,000 hours worked in 2015, MSHA has proposed a rule that does little to improve workplace safety, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association says. But there is still time for quarry operators to comment.

“The historically low injury rates achieved by industry demonstrates a collective commitment to safe practices, and these rates are not achieved by luck or by fluke. Aggregates operators take their safety responsibilities seriously, including the identification of hazards and unsafe conditions,” said Joseph Casper, vice president of safety, National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, in the comments. “We strongly question the merits of the proposed revision to the existing standard.”

Currently, operators inspect work areas during shifts and address safety issues that are discovered accordingly. As written, the proposed rule is seen by the association as overly prescriptive and it will likely undercut operator ability to manage for safety, the association says.

The association told MSHA in the comments that the current standard allows operators to train workers to properly handle examinations. All employees are charged with taking ownership of the safety of their own work areas, which in turn encourages constant vigilance throughout a shift.

“The proposal would require that workplace examinations be done at the beginning of the shift and cover any areas that could conceivably be worked during a shift. Requiring operators to conduct an exam before the start of a shift could reduce operator effectiveness in detecting hazards.

“One NSSGA member said it could cost an extra $25,000 annually for a single mid-sized facility to pay workers who are waiting to start production. These increased costs to comply with unnecessary regulations like the workplace exams proposed rule would risk increasing the price of stone, sand and gravel needed for construction projects on which private, industrial and commercial sectors are reliant for our nation’s growth and competitiveness.

“Virtually all safety professionals today recognize that the overwhelming majority of injuries and accidents are functions not of inherently unsafe conditions but of unsafe behaviors,” said Casper.
MSHA’s proposed workplaces examination rule will laden operators with costly additional administrative burdens while doing nothing about addressing this predominant source of workplace injuries, he says.

The association also told MSHA that the administration has yet to realize the costs of implementing this proposed rule. MSHA explicitly states in the proposal that it “is unable to quantify the benefits from this proposed rulemaking,” and yet federal agencies are required to estimate the costs and benefits of proposed regulations and alternatives.

The association’s full comments to MSHA are available to download. There is still time for operators to submit their own comments on the rule via a website portal, email to zzMSHA-comments@dol.gov or mail at MSHA Office of Standards, 201 12th Street South, Suite 4E401, Arlington, VA 22202-5452.

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