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.
“Powered haulage” is a broad category of equipment that includes everything from conveyor belts to haul trucks. Although fatal mining accidents are at record lows, in the last couple of years, MSHA has repeatedly highlighted the fact that many of the handful of serious accidents that still occur involve powered haulage equipment – whether it’s a conveyor belt, a loader, a light truck, or a heavy mine vehicle.
To collect data and ideas, and possibly start rulemaking, MSHA issued a 2018 RFI on the subject. Much of the RFI focused on the possibility of implementing in mining various technologies that have begun to appear elsewhere – such as automatic brakes on passenger vehicles or “light curtains” that shut down conveyor belts in factories if a person gets too close.
In recent years, Members of Husch Blackwell’s Mining Coalition have experimented with a number of these tools. They and others have found that while many of these technologies are promising, and some could work, many still in development and not practical for the unique conditions of a mine. In addition, their experience has been that with fundamental equipment protections in place, many of the remaining incidents that occur are the result of human behavior. As a result, they have achieved the most safety gains with comprehensive safety programs that create cultures of accountability, compliance, and safety.
The group’s RFI comments involved detailed analysis and data from applying some of these technologies in other contexts, such as in passenger cars. They provided feedback to MSHA on a wide range of technologies and strategies, including seatbelt interlocks, collision avoidance and edge detection systems, as well as conveyor belt guarding and human presence-detecting devices.
The comments’ executive summary concluded:
- Though mining has achieved record levels of safety, MSHA is right to seek solutions for the remaining serious accidents. Because human factors are a major part in these cases, properly-enforced comprehensive safety programs are a significant solution, with or without new technology. MSHA can play a role in promoting these.
- Some new safety technologies are feasible and impactful. But, many promising tools still require further development and study. Some of the simplest solutions are also the best and quickest to make an impact.
- With diverse mines, equipment, and operations, solutions should be targeted.
- Improved accident data will aid in considering new safety solutions.
- Vehicle makers are best equipped to install new technologies by designing and installing them in the factory rather than retrofitting existing equipment in the field.
The Mining Coalition is an informal group of metal and non-metal mining production and service companies, which support continuing safety improvements and sound regulations. Together, the Coalition members employ thousands of people and share MSHA’s goals of advancing miner safety and health. If your company is interested in becoming involved in the Coalition, please contact Avi Meyerstein or Brian Hendrix.