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Mine safety agency clarifies timing of workplace examinations


The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday proposed a rule mandating that workplace examinations of metal and nonmetal mines take place prior to miners' exposure to hazards instead of after a miner dies or is injured.

The proposed rule requires that a competent person examine the working place before miners begin work, and that mine operators promptly notify miners of any conditions that may adversely affect their safety or health and promptly initiate appropriate corrective action, according to the agency.

MSHA would also require that the competent person conducting the examination sign and date the examination record before the end of each shift, and that operators make such records available to miners and their representatives upon request.

The proposed rule aims to fix a lack of clarity in MSHA's current regulations, which allows these inspections to occur at any time during a work shift, Joseph Main, assistant secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, said at a stakeholder meeting on Tuesday. It would also mandate actions voluntarily taken by many mine operators such as examinations prior to the start of the work shift, he said.

“The proposed rule builds on these promising practices already in use in many mines,” Mr. Main said. “For those operators who are already taking the proactive approach to safety, the proposed rule would be easily implemented and will level the playing field with those operators who may cut corners and only take steps when MSHA inspections are conducted.”

The agency estimated the proposed cost of the rule at between $70.9 million to $86.2 million over a 10-year period.

In developing the rule, MSHA reviewed accident investigation reports and the agency's enforcement data from January 2010 through mid-December 2015, during which 122 miners were killed in 110 accidents at these mines. The agency investigated each fatal accident and issued 252 citations and orders for violations of 95 different mandatory safety and health standards.

MSHA's analysis also revealed that in more than 60% of the fatal accidents, the agency had issued at least one citation or order for a violation of a mandatory safety or health standard identified in MSHA's Rules to Live By initiative, launched in February 2010 and designed to prevent miner fatalities.

Separately, MSHA is also requesting information and data on approaches to control and monitor miners' exposures to diesel exhaust. Recent studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Cancer Institute have found a link between such exposure and a heightened risk of lung cancer death for miners, prompting the agency to evaluate its current rules to see if they are “sufficiently protective,” Mr. Main said.

“There is a risk here for miners that we really need to pay attention to,” he said.

A 90-day comment period will be held for both the proposed rule and the request for information.

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