Mine safety has come a long way from 1977, a tragic year that saw 273 miners lose their lives in mine-operations-related accidents in the United States. It was also that year when the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 was passed, signaling a new era in mine safety and health for all mine workers across the nation.
Mine safety between 1977 and today is as wide as between 1977 and the days when canaries were used as crude early-warning devices against toxic gases in mines. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports that 2012 registered the lowest ever fatality, injury, and illness figures since mine safety records were first kept. Last year, according to Joseph Main, the Labor for Mine Safety and Health assistant secretary, 36 miners (19 in coal mines, 17 in other mines) were killed because of work-related accidents. As low as the figure is compared with fatality numbers of years past, the agency considers the number one too many—and, significantly, is doing something about it.
In the short term, Main says, the agency’s goal is to pull down fatality rates in all types of mining operations to all-time lows for the second year running. To do this, Main points out that the following basic requirements must always be in place:
- Mining safety and health programs that are effective and are periodically evaluated.
- Find-and-fix programs to ferret out mine hazards and remove them.
- Appropriate, updated training for all personnel, such as MSHA Part 46 training courses offered by providers like OSHAcampus.com.
In addition, MSHA has launched several initiatives to enhance health and safety in mines, and prevent fatalities. The most important of these are:
- More impactful inspections, especially at mines which have a history of inadequate compliance with guidelines and regulations.
- Improved action on pattern of violations (POV); for instance, more special initiatives such as “Rules to Live By,” a program which focuses on the most common causes of mining deaths.
- Increased number of outreach programs such as “Safety Pro in a Box,” which provides best practices and compliance responsibilities for the metal/nonmetal mining industry.
MSHA has also released two new final regulations to decrease the number of accidents in mines that lead to personnel injuries and deaths. The first of these, the final rule for Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards went into effect in August 2012. The second one, the final rule on Pattern of Violations, became effective on March 25. The first regulation aims to mitigate health and safety threats to coal miners by requiring coal operators to identify and eliminate hazardous conditions and violations of standards that pose the highest threat to mine personnel. The second rule simplifies current POV criteria and improves how these criteria are applied.