New MSHA Final Rule Strengthens Mine Inspection Requirements

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has issued a new final rule aimed at improving the effectiveness of safety inspections within the mining industry. The rule goes into effect on May 23, and will introduce new requirements to better safeguard the safety and health of miners in metallic and non-metallic (MNM) mines across the country.

Background on the New Rule

Mining has always been one the nation’s most dangerous occupations, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 miners per year during the early 20th century before tighter mining regulations significantly reduced the fatality rate. In 2010, MSHA attempted to further reduce risks in the industry by launching a “Rules to Live By” initiative that established nineteen basic safety rules, designed to prevent the most common types of accidents. The MSHA expected that the number of injuries, including fatalities, would fall after the standards went into effect. However, according to information maintained by MSHA, 122 miners died as the result of 110 accidents between January 2010 and December 2015, and over 60% of these accidents involved a violation of an established safety “Rule to Live By.” One example, which occurred in March of 2015, involved a haul truck driver who was driving along an elevated roadway near the mine’s dredge pond. The roadway had recently been constructed and had no berm to act as a barrier to a drop, as required by MSHA.  The truck fell from the road into the pond, severely injuring the driver who died from complications from his injuries two days later. Serious accidents such as this one revealed widespread deficiencies in company inspection programs.

MSHA had previously required that a “competent person” designated by the mine operator conduct inspections of each workplace at least once per shift for conditions that could adversely affect safety and health. However, the existing standard did not specify that inspections need to occur near the beginning of the shift, which would help to identify and correct workplace hazards before they could lead to an injury. The standard also did not require the operator to record adverse conditions identified during the inspection, or to document subsequent corrective actions. The number of serious mining accidents between 2010 and 2015 demonstrated that inspection requirements needed tightening to ensure better mitigation of serious risks.

What’s Changed?

With its new final rule, MSHA hopes to reduce accidents and save lives by improving quality and accountability of mine inspections. The rule requires that the operator conduct inspections before any work takes place in work areas. This does not necessarily mean that inspections must occur before the shift begins, since there are multiple work areas within a single mining site and it would be difficult or even impossible for an operator to inspect all possible work areas before a shift begins. Rather, MSHA clarifies that “examinations can be conducted before or after a shift begins, so long as the examinations are conducted close in time ‘before work begins.’” As a result, the rule provides some flexibility by allowing a competent person chosen by the operator to inspect work areas at varying points during a shift, as long as inspections happen before workers begin working at those specific work areas.

MSHA also explains that inspections should not occur so long before work starts that conditions may reasonably be expected to change by the time work begins. The intent is to ensure not only that each work area is inspected before work begins to better support the early identification and correction of hazards, but also that the inspection results remain “current” by the time work actually begins. With this provision, MSHA seeks to reduce the possibility that new and unidentified hazards could develop in the time between completion of the inspection and the beginning of work in a work area.

Under the new rule, operators now also have a requirement to promptly notify miners of unsafe conditions identified during the inspection. MSHA reasons that “miners need to know about adverse conditions in their working place so they can take protective measures or avoid the adverse conditions altogether.” MSHA clarifies that if an adverse condition, such as a hose extended across a walkway, were corrected before work began, there would be no need to notify workers because there would no longer be an adverse condition. The final rule retains the existing provisions regarding “imminent dangers” identified during inspections, which require the competent person who conducted the inspection to bring these conditions to the immediate attention of the operator, who must then withdraw all miners from the affected area until the danger is abated.

The new rule defines acceptable format and documentation practices for inspection reports.  MSHA states that the record must include the locations of all areas examined, and a description of each condition found that could adversely affect the safety or health of miners. The record must also describe corrective actions taken, if applicable, and document the date that the corrective actions were taken. The competent person who conducted the inspection must sign and date the inspection record before the end of each shift. Finally, the inspection records must be maintained by management and be made available to MSHA, to miners, or to miners’ representatives upon request.

MSHA contends that the final rule will “result in more effective and consistent working place examinations by helping to ensure that adverse conditions will be identified in a timely manner, communicated to miners and corrected, thereby improving miners’ safety and health.”


Let VelocityEHS Help!

The MSHA final rule creates more stringent inspection and documentation requirements, and mine operators should immediately begin planning strategies to achieve and maintain compliance. VelocityEHS offers a comprehensive audit & inspection software solution to help streamline the inspection of work areas within the mine, and simplify the documentation, communication and access to inspection results. The VelocityEHS audit & inspection solution also features seamless integration with our corrective actions management tool, allowing you to quickly assign, track and verify completion of corrective actions using one centralized and easy-to-use system. In addition, our training management solution can help your employees, especially those designated as “competent persons” for performing inspections, to understand their obligations and responsibilities under the final rule and help you stay in compliance. With VelocityEHS solutions, you’ll be ready to meet MSHA’s new inspection requirements, and have the tools you need to become an industry leader safety and health.