MSHA Briefs Trainers on Plans to Stem Spike in M/NM Fatalities
Submitted by jsharpe on Thu, 05/22/2014 - 3:55pm

MSHA plans to step up enforcement in the wake of a spike in fatal accidents in the Metal/Non-Metal (M/NM) sector, where 20 miners have died since last Oct. 1.

To intervene in a trend that has produced nearly a doubling of the fatality rate over the last 7½ months, M/NM Administrator Neal Merrifield said the agency would be enlisting coal inspectors to assist M/NM inspectors to identify hazards and will issue imminent danger orders to withdraw miners when hazards are identified.

In a conference call with trainers today (3-5-2014), Merrifield also said the inspectorate, assisted by MSHA personnel representing small mines and Educational Field Services (EFS), would be engaging in walk-and-talk discussions with miners to alert them to the fatalities and how to prevent them. The sessions will begin the week of June 2. He appealed to the trainers assist in that effort. In response to a question, Merrifield said the agency would work with operators to minimize downtime when meetings with miners are held.

Assistant Secretary Joe Main kicked off the 65-minute call by stating its purpose is to begin an ongoing dialogue with trainers. He said such calls will be held quarterly in conjunction with MSHA’s release of summaries of M/NM fatalities that had occurred over the previous three months. “I want this to be a regular quarterly discussion with our trainers,” Main said.
Although more than 300 persons responded to MSHA’s invitation to participate in the call, Main said the agency does not have a complete list of trainers or who they are training. He said an email would be sent following the call asking for this information, as well as for feedback on how to enhance training. He also requested anyone who did not respond to the invitation to contact the agency at

“ We need your help to improve the quality of training of our miners across the country,” he said.
Merrifield said analysts had poured over the fatality data in an effort to understand more fully why the upswing was occurring. “Unfortunately, what we’ve found is the fatals are in all different states, all different commodities, all different types of jobs and all different types of accidents.” Nonetheless, two things stand out, he said: inadequate workplace examinations and task training. Regarding task training, the Administrator said investigators have often found that task training was recorded, but the associated work was not being done when the fatal accident took place.

The bulk of the session was devoted to reviewing a PowerPoint presentation on the accidents, conducted by Deputy M/NM Administrator Marvin Lichtenfels and Mike Hancher, who runs M/NM’s accident investigation group.
Laying the groundwork for that discussion, Merrifield noted the fatalities simply reflect accidents that kill miners year after year; e.g., failure to deenergize and lock and tag out equipment or to wear personal protective equipment. In addition, many of the alleged violations associated with the incidents represent standards covered by the Rules to Live By fatality prevention program. The common denominator in all the accidents is that they were preventable, he said.

Lichtenfels called attention to a high number of fatalities in April, saying miners are at heightened risk then because the mine is conducting start-up operations. Its corollary is October, another bad time because shutdown activities are underway. He also spotlighted six supervisor fatalities during the period and commented that contractor fatalities were “starting to creep up.”

Lichtenfels also noted that only two of the fatalities occurred at mines with a non-fatal days lost rate above the national average.
During his presentation, Hancher stressed the importance of miners taking control of their work situation by, for example,deenergizing power and locking and tagging out equipment before working on it. He described an accident April 17 in which a truck driver was crushed by an excavator after he left his truck. “It’s classic, stay in your truck,” he advised.

Following a short question-and-answer period in which several participants asked for new training materials, including interactive tools, Jeff Duncan made what turned out to be closing remarks. Duncan, who heads MSHA’s Educational Policy & Development Directorate, indicated where his small mines and EFS personnel will be focusing their attention during the walk-and-talks.

“ While all training is important, task and hazard recognition training may be the most important training that miners receive,” he remarked.

He noted that supervisors and experienced miners, not professional trainers, often perform task training and called on participants to make certain this training is effective. Individuals selected to task train should have good communications skills and use checklists for each task, which should include safe job procedures, hazard recognition and control measures. The effectiveness of this training should be evaluated while it is progress, upon completion and with follow-up later "to make sure," Duncan said.

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