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By Stephen Lee
June 7 — The Mine Safety and Health Administration is formally proposing its mine examination rule June 8, calling it a common-sense standard that plugs obvious gaps in the agency's regulatory framework.
Under the proposal (RIN:1219-AB87), metal and nonmetal mines would have to examine their facilities and fix problems before a shift begins. The current rule lets operators examine mines during a shift when workers may already be active in unsafe conditions.
Another change would require operators to explicitly notify miners of dangerous conditions that are found. This provision could have saved the life of Michael Jay Nickels, who in 2015 drove his truck off an embankment at a sand and gravel mine in Nebraska and died, MSHA chief Joe Main told reporters during a June 7 conference call. Nickels hadn't been told beforehand that the roadway had no barrier to stop the truck, according to Main.
The need for worker notification is particularly acute because a mine environment can change dramatically between shifts, Main said.
The proposed rule, scheduled to be published in the June 8 Federal Register, also requires operators to record their examinations and establish processes to fix hazards.
“It’s obvious that better mine site exams by mine operators themselves to find the hazard and fix that hazard before a miner is exposed to it, and ultimately is injured or killed, just makes the most common sense in the world,” Main said.
MSHA also announced four meetings to gather input on the proposal. The meetings will be held in Salt Lake City, July 19; Pittsburgh, July 21; Arlington, Va., July 26 and Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 4.
Better exams could have prevented more than 60 percent of the 122 deaths at metal and nonmetal mines from January 2010 to December 2015, Main said.
Last year, Main told Bloomberg BNA that tightening preshift inspections was one of his highest regulatory priorities .
MSHA had sent the rule proposal to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs March 12. Main said the reason for the fast turnaround was that the rule's benefits were so obvious(46 OSHR 254, 3/17/16).
Also during the conference call, Main said MSHA is seeking feedback from the mining industry on its diesel emissions rule.
MSHA hasn't taken regulatory action on diesel particulates since 2001 for coal, and 2006 for metal and nonmetal mines. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Cancer Institute have strongly linked diesel exhaust and lung cancer for underground miners, Main said.
“We all need to be taking a stronger and second look to find out how we can better protect our miners,” Main said.
In 2013, MSHA issued an alert recommended using engineering controls, including installing exhaust filters, providing cabs with filtered air, maintaining engines, installing cleaner-burning engines and switching fuels to address the problem (43 OSHR 54, 1/17/13).
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Information about the mine inspection rule is available at http://tinyurl.com/z7ckq7j .
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