MSHA Proposes New Rule for Mobile Equipment Safety Plans
September 10, 2021
By: Karl F. Kumli
On September 9, 2021, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) published a new 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”).
Who is impacted by the proposed rule?
The newly proposed rule applies to both operators of coal and metal/non-metal mines who are employing six or more miners. The proposed rule requires these operators to develop and implement a written safety program for surface mobile equipment. However, the proposed rule excludes belt conveyors, which are not considered by the rule to be part of surface mobile equipment.
What is MSHA trying to accomplish with the proposed rule?
The proposed rule is intended to address a key issue of safety processes in the use of surface mobile equipment. This is 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. Just this year to date, eleven deaths on mine sites have been attributed to mobile equipment, constituting nearly half of fatalities to date this year.
What does the proposed rule require in an operator’s plan?
The proposed rule would require operators to develop and implement written safety programs consisting of four elements. These elements prescribe actions that mine operators will take to:
- Identify and analyze hazards and reduce the resulting risks related to the movement and operation of surface mobile equipment;
- Develop and maintain procedures and schedules for routine maintenance and non-routine repairs to surface mobile equipment;
- Identify currently-available and newly-emerging feasible technologies that can enhance safety at the mine and evaluate whether to adopt them; and
- 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.
Operators 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 can operators expect next in this process?
MSHA is requesting comments on the Proposed Rule in several areas, to include:
- MSHA’s evaluation of the rule’s cost and benefits;
- 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
- 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. There remain outstanding questions as to how comprehensive a plan can be, applicable to an entire mine site, or limited to specific types of equipment.
Operators who are interested in drafting comments should be mindful that the deadline to submit comments is midnight on Monday, November 08, 2021.
Jackson Kelly’s Workplace Safety and Health practice group continues to follow comments and developments surrounding the proposed rule.