When MSHA asked in a request for information (“RFI”) for data, experiences, and ideas on how to reduce “powered haulage” accidents, the implication of many of the RFI questions was that MSHA is looking to push mines to adopt new 21st-century technologies, such as object detection and collision avoidance systems. In response, Husch Blackwell’s Mining Coalition submitted detailed comments last month that outlined programs, strategies, and technologies that operators have found to be successful – and those that haven’t yet worked.

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A report at the end of last year by DOL’s Office of Inspector General highlights what OIG considers major challenges for OSHA and MSHA in fulfilling their missions. The report also provides a window into where the workplace safety agencies may focus their energies in 2019 – and where employers may face increased risks of enforcement and other liability.

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On October 17, 2018, OIRA published the fall regulatory agenda for MSHA. The major regulatory priority on MSHA’s agenda continues to be an examination of the protections provided to reduce underground miners’ exposure to diesel exhaust and refuge alternatives for underground coal mines. The MSHA/NIOSH Diesel Health Effects Partnership convened its third meeting in July 2018 and attracted 50 stakeholders from across the industry spectrum to chart an effective path for change.

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During its recent quarterly stakeholder call, the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a new “Fire Suppression Safety Initiative” (FSS) to ensure that fire suppression systems on mobile equipment are in working order and capable of extinguishing equipment fires. The initiative appears to involve educating operators about FSS, including proper inspections and maintenance, as well as stepping up related enforcement.

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OSHA says it will increase enforcement with a revised National Emphasis Program (NEP) for trenching and excavation because of an increase in fatalities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, trenching and excavation deaths nearly tripled between 2011 and 2016 (130 deaths in all in that time). The revised NEP will add enforcement, compliance assistance, and outreach programs.

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One unique challenge on mine sites is the rule requiring a phone call to MSHA within 15 minutes of certain serious accidents. Operators otherwise consumed with emergency response must make quick, on-the-scene judgments about whether a miner’s medical condition is life threatening. With 20/20 hindsight, MSHA often disagrees with their decisions and issues citations. A recent case vacating a 15-minute reporting citation is a reminder that there are often good grounds to contest such allegations.

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