Effective examinations are the first line of defense to protect miners working in underground coal mines. When mine operators conduct such checks before and during a shift, they can address health and safety hazards before they become more dangerous and cause harm to workers. On August 6, the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s final rule on Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards went into effect.
The regulation requires mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions and violations of nine health and safety standards that pose the greatest risk to miners, including some of the conditions that contributed to the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010. Last year, MSHA issued approximately 158,000 violations, of which approximately 77,000 were attributable to underground coal mines, even though these mines represent just 4 percent of all mines.
After analyzing MSHA’s accident reports and enforcement data for underground coal mines covering a five-year period, we determined that the same types of violations of health or safety standards are found by MSHA inspectors in underground coal mines every year, and that these violations present some of the most unsafe conditions for coal miners.
These repeated violations expose miners to unnecessary safety and health risks that should be found and corrected by mine operators. This final examination rule will increase the identification and correction of unsafe conditions in mines earlier, removing many of the conditions that could lead to danger, and improve protection for miners in underground coal mines.
We are building upon on the standards emphasized in MSHA’s Rules to Live By initiative, launched in February 2010, a multi-phase outreach and enforcement program designed to strengthen fatality prevention in mines. Operators will be required to examine for violations of nine standards that address ventilation, methane, roof control, combustible materials, rock dust, equipment guarding and other safeguards, buttressing their hazard examination in existing enforcement laws. A record of remedial actions will also be required of operators, who will review with mine examiners on a quarterly basis the citations and orders issued in required examination areas.
Miners deserve to return home to their loved ones after each and every shift. Mine operators who follow this regulation will help ensure this happens.
Joseph Main is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.