Proposed mine inspection rule focuses on wrong targets

Human error is the cause of most mining accidents, rendering a proposed federal rule unnecessary, industry representatives told the Mine Safety and Health Administration on July 26.

Between 80 and 90% of all mining accidents are caused by human factors, said Todd Ohlheiser, executive director of the Colorado Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, testifying at an MSHA public meeting.

Yet the mining administration’s proposed rule (RIN:1219-AB87) focuses entirely on inspecting equipment, which most mines already do a good job of, testified Joseph Casper, vice president of safety services at the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association.

Under the mining administration’s proposal, metal and nonmetal mine operators would have to examine sites and fix problems before a shift begins. The agency’s current rule lets operators examine mines during a shift, when workers may already be active in unsafe conditions, the agency says.

The meeting was held to glean public input as the mining administration works toward finalizing its rule.

Other industry speakers warned MSHA about a proposed provision that would require operators to record the results of all mines examined, and for the examiners to sign and date those records.

“This change would not benefit safety,” Ohlheiser said. “Rather, it would simply give MSHA more ammunition for writing citations.”

But James Frederick, assistant director of the United Steelworkers’ health, safety and environment department, said the proposed rule is a good one because it focuses on prevention, which he called the key to protecting worker safety.

Most accidents—including falls, electrocutions and machine guarding incidents—can be identified and controlled in a thorough mine exam, Frederick said.

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