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Milestones in Mining Health and Safety

By Kay Bechtold

Many in the U.S. paused yesterday, Dec. 6, to recognize those who work in the mining industry on National Miners Day, a day designated by Congress in 2009 to honor the contributions and sacrifices of miners both past and present. Dec. 6 was chosen to acknowledge the anniversary of the worst single loss-of-life mining disaster in American history, the 1907 explosion at the Fairmont Coal Company No. 6 and No. 8 mines in Monongah, W.Va., which killed more than 360 coal miners. In a statement to honor America’s miners, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main states that approximately 366,000 men and women go to work in more than 13,000 underground and surface mining operations throughout the U.S. each day. NIOSH Director John Howard, MD, notes that mining as an industry is the second most hazardous line of work, following commercial fishing, farming, and logging.

“However, because much of mining takes place well removed from public view, the degree to which the public interacts with—or is even aware of—this industry is minimal, and many may not always realize what this industry provides for us,” Howard writes.

During this time of appreciation, honor, and remembrance, SynergistNOW looks back at recent milestones and resources related to health and safety in mining:

January 2013: MSHA published a final rule revising the agency’s pattern of violations regulation. The rule was intended to strengthen MSHA’s ability to respond to dangerous mining conditions and help the agency identify mine operators who demonstrate disregard for worker health and safety.

October 2013: MSHA recognized the first Mine Rescue Day on Oct. 30, 2013, a date the agency selected for its historical significance. According to MSHA, the first national mine rescue demonstration was held in the U.S. on Oct. 30, 1911, in Pittsburgh, Pa., with President William Howard Taft in attendance. Since then, many contests have been held to help prepare mine rescue teams to respond to emergencies.

May 2014: MSHA published a final rule revising the agency’s standards on miners’ occupational exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The new rule lowered the exposure limit in the overall dust standard from 2.0 to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3) at underground and surface coal mines. It also lowered the previous limit of 1.0 to 0.5 mg/m3 for intake air at underground mines and for miners who show evidence of developing pneumoconiosis.

August 2014: AIHA sanctioned the formation of a Mining Working Group, which was formed to provide a professional venue for industrial hygienists, occupational medicine specialists, safety professionals, and others who work in and with the mining industry to network, share information, and improve miner health and welfare worldwide. 

January 2015: MSHA issued a final rule intended to protect miners from pinning, crushing, or striking accidents caused by continuous mining machines in underground coal mines. Continuous mining machines are large, high-powered scrapers that extract coal from mines’ seams. The rule requires mine operators to equip these machines with proximity detection systems, which use electronic sensors on both mining machines and miners to detect motion or the location of one object relative to another.

June 2016: June 15, 2016, marked the tenth anniversary of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act, which MSHA’s Joseph A. Main credits for significantly improving safety at U.S. coal mines.  The Act requires operators of underground coal mines to develop and continuously update written emergency response plans, and requires industry to maintain better-trained mine rescue teams at underground coal mines. 

One day earlier, on June 14, 2016, NIOSH unveiled “ErgoMine,” a new mobile app for ergonomic audits in the mining industry. According to NIOSH, the app generates recommendations for ergonomic improvements and is intended to help prevent musculoskeletal injuries and promote health, safety, and efficiency.

On June 29, 2016, MSHA announced that a recent screening showed that none of the more than 13,000 mines in the U.S. warranted further scrutiny for issuance of a “pattern of violations” (POV) notice. This marked the first time since MSHA’s reforms began in 2010 that no mining operation meets the criteria for a POV notice, which is reserved for mines that pose the greatest risk to workers’ safety and health through repeated violations.

October 2016: MSHA released data indicating that fiscal year 2016 was the “safest year in mining history.”

November 2016: The Synergist published a feature article titled “Progress in Mining” that focuses on new control technologies that hold promise for improvements in the health and safety of miners.

If you’re an OEHS professional working to help improve the health and safety of miners, what are the main challenges you face? Leave your responses in the comments below or share your efforts by emailing the editors.


Kay Bechtold is assistant editor of The Synergist. 

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