Recent Surge in Miner Deaths Leads to New Safety Campaign

After an increase in preventable mining-related deaths, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) launched its new campaign entitled “Take Time, Save Lives”. The campaign aims to remind mine operators that they are responsible for providing safe workplaces and preventing fatalities.

More miners died in work-related incidents last year than in the previous six; altogether, 37 miners died in 2021 whereas fewer than 30 had died each year between 2015 and 2021. In fact, the number of fatalities that occurred in 2021 was the highest number of annual deaths the industry has sustained since 2006. 17 of last year’s mining fatalities involved powered haulage incidents, indicating the need for major improvements in training, equipment, and safety programs. Powered haulage equipment includes anything from conveyor belts to shuttle cars, locomotives, scoops, front end loaders and more.

Increasing Mining Safety Initiatives

To mitigate the risks associated with powered haulage incidents, MSHA
recently proposed a rule that would require mine operators who employ at least six employees to create written safety programs for powered haulage and other types of hazardous mobile mining equipment. Per the agency’s research, effective safety programs should involve targeted inspections as well as a variety of special emphasis components. Here are a few examples of some of the other special emphasis components that MSHA says a successful mining safety program should address:

• Pillar collapse initiatives that provide guidance on how to prevent roof and rib falls. Since October 2020, four major pillar collapses have happened in limestone mines. Most pillar collapses are the result of benching or floor mining, which involves increasing the pillars’ height

• Fire suppression system initiatives. There are thousands of mobile equipment vehicles that come equipped with fire suppression systems. However, these systems do not always work. In 2018, for example, three mobile equipment fires occurred in which the fire suppression systems failed. One miner sustained such severe burns that he succumbed to his injuries

• Systems that allow miners to dismount equipment quickly and safely in case a fire occurs

• The implementation of evacuation methods that allow miners to avoid areas of mobile equipment vehicles that are notorious for being involved in fires

• Conveyor belt safety. Conveyor belts pose significant contact risks for miners. Mine operators need to install effective machine guarding, provide and use crossovers and cross unders, and lock out energy sources and block motion whenever individuals are performing maintenance work

• Installing traffic controls, training programs, collision warning and avoidance systems to improve outcomes that involve the use of mobile mining equipment

• Improving seatbelt usage rates. MSHA estimates that an average of three to four lives could be saved each year if adequate seatbelts are provided and worn. One way to improve seatbelt usage rates is to install warning systems, such as chimes, that remind workers to buckle up. Interlock systems also prevent mobile equipment vehicles from moving if the belt is unbuckled

In short, it is critical that mine operators provide comprehensive training to miners and ensure that they prioritize reducing preventable mining-related injuries and fatalities. If you would like to learn more about MSHA’s new “Take Time, Saves Lives” campaign, you can read a blog post from the agency’s Acting Assistant Secretary’s here.

What to Do if You Sustain a Work-Related Injury

As prescribed by the OSH Law, or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have several key responsibilities that they are legally required to fulfill. Here are some examples of these responsibilities from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

• Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with all standards, rules, and regulations issued under the OSH Act

• Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable safety and health standards

• Make sure employees have and use safe tools. Be sure to routinely inspect and properly maintain equipment

• Use color codes, posters, labels, and/or signs to warn workers about potential job-related hazards

• Provide safety training to employees in a language and vocabulary that they can understand

Although the above list is in no way comprehensive, it should illustrate the scope of an employer’s responsibilities to safeguard workers from preventable injuries. Despite their obligation to fulfill these responsibilities, many employers fail to prioritize the health and safety of employees and cut corners in favor of making a quick buck.

A worker’s life can change when an injury occurs. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to injured workers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Malvey
Michael Malvey is a Senior Partner at Galfand Berger. Michael handles a wide variety of cases within the personal injury department, including automobile accidents, premises liability cases, construction site accidents, products liability matters, and medical malpractice cases. He has been a member of the team of Galfand Berger lawyers who have obtained over $75 million dollars in settlements and judgments and attained some of the largest, multi-million dollar client recoveries in Pennsylvania.

Copyright Galfand Berger, LLP

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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