On September 9, 2021, MSHA expects to publish a Proposed Rule requiring mine operators to develop and implement written safety programs for their powered haulage equipment used at surface mines and surface areas of underground mines (“surface mobile equipment”).

What mines and equipment does the Proposed Rule cover? 

MSHA’s Proposed Rule applies to operators of coal and metal/non-metal mines employing six or more miners. The Proposed Rule would require these operators to develop and implement a written safety program for surface mobile equipment other than belt conveyors, which are specifically excluded from the definition of surface mobile equipment.

What is the purpose of MSHA’s Proposed Rule?

The Proposed Rule is intended to improve safety in the use of surface mobile equipment in part to address the fact that accidents involving mobile and powered haulage equipment continue to be a leading cause of fatalities in the mining industry, even though the industry’s total accident rate is declining.

What does an operator’s safety program need to address?

The Proposed Rule would require operators to develop and implement written safety programs consisting of four elements. Each program would include actions mine operators would take to:

  1. Identify and analyze hazards and reduce the resulting risks related to the movement and operation of surface mobile equipment;
  2. Develop and maintain procedures and schedules for routine maintenance and non-routine repairs to surface mobile equipment;
  3. Identify currently available and newly emerging feasible technologies that can enhance safety at the mine and evaluate whether to adopt them; and
  4. Train miners and other persons at the mine who are necessary to perform the work to identify and address or avoid hazards related to surface mobile equipment.

The operator will also be required to evaluate and update the program (i) annually; (ii) as mining conditions change; (iii) as accidents or injuries occur; or (iv) when the surface mobile equipment changes or modifications are made.

What is the next step in MSHA’s rulemaking process?

MSHA is requesting comments on the Proposed Rule in several areas, to include:

  1. MSHA’s evaluation of the rule’s cost and benefits;
  2. Data and information that would allow MSHA to develop estimates that might better reflect differing conditions at various mines and their effect on the economic feasibility of the Proposed Rule; and
  3. Comments on new, developing or innovative technologies that could enhance the benefits of the proposal.

The language MSHA chose for the requirements of the safety programs and the frequency of updates raise several questions not only regarding future enforcement, but also feasibility. Additionally, the Proposed Rule’s cost-benefit analysis discussion triggers more questions than it answers. The non-quantitative analysis of the costs and benefits presumably is a consequence of the Biden Administration’s Executive Order to Modernize Regulatory Review published on January 20, 2021.

Operators who are interested in drafting comments should be mindful that the deadline to submit those comments is midnight on Monday, November 08, 2021.