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MSHA Promotes Powered Haulage Safety

Mine safety agency passes on stakeholder advice but holds off on rulemaking—for now.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has made public a number of best practices to improve powered haulage safety that were recommended by a group of mining industry stakeholders.

Powered haulage accidents are the leading cause of fatalities in the mining industry, accounting for 50% of fatalities in 2017 and 57% of the fatalities in the first four months of 2018. MSHA classifies both mobile equipment and conveyor-related accidents as powered haulage.

Last year, there were three fatalities that involved a vehicle operator who was not wearing a seat belt (there have been 35 similar fatalities since 2007) and four fatalities where a large-haul truck collided with a small vehicle (there have been 23 similar fatalities recorded since 2003).

Four of the fatalities that occurred in the last 12 months occurred after a miner attempted to perform maintenance on an energized conveyor or attempted to cross an energized conveyor in an unsafe location.

Following its review of accidents that occurred in 2017, the agency decided to make powered haulage safety a higher priority. On April 3, MSHA asked for best practices from mine operators, miners, trainers and safety consultants concerning strategies and systems the industry has implemented to boost the safe operation of powered haulage equipment.

MSHA’s request for feedback focused on seat belt usage, collisions involving both large and smaller vehicles, and conveyor safety.

Some of those providing input suggested that mine operators invest in technological advancements to slash the number of fatal vehicle accidents. These included cameras, proximity detection systems and seatbelt interlocks.

However, many suggestions focused on non-technological solutions that are accessible to both small and large mine operators. These include:

• Creating individualized training to improve awareness of blindspot distances.

• The use of high visibility strobe lights, flags and seat belt covers to enhance vehicle detection and regulatory compliance.

• Separate roadways and parking areas for small and large vehicles.

• Improved signaling and communication with heavy equipment operators.

The stakeholders also suggested taking additional measures to reduce fatal accidents around conveyors. Some of these include changing the size and visibility of guards, constructing guards to eliminate removal for cleaning, strategic positioning of emergency stop cords in the event of falls, and improved positioning and sizing of conveyor crossovers to ensure they account for their need and use.

MSHA Chief David Zatezalo during the quarterly stakeholder call offered that MSHA doesn’t anticipate a need for additional regulation at this time for reducing powered haulage fatal accidents. But keep in mind that such a rulemaking may come down the pipeline sometime in the future, notes Gwendolyn Nightengale, an attorney with the law firm of Ogletree Deakins.

In remarks made earlier this year, Zatezalo suggested that a rulemaking was in development that would require operators at surface mines to use proximity detection technologies that are now being used on continuous miner machines in underground coal mines, as well as seat belt interlock devices.

For now, the agency is urging mine operators, miners and trainers to identify the root cause of accidents to help target miner training and mentoring for more effective accident prevention. MSHA also has collaborated with mining associations to raise awareness and improve safe work practices, Nightengale points out.

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