October 1, 2009
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Is MSHA being heavy handed?
Some Tennessee aggregates miners say they could go out of business if they continue to face the recent surge in fines from Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspectors. According to the jacksonsun.com, 30 people representing more than 20 West Tennessee mining companies met with staff members from the offices of U.S. Representatives Marsha Blackburn and John Tanner, as well as Senator Lamar Alexander, to discuss the situation. The aggregates miners said their businesses do above ground or surface mining of sand, gravel, and limestone, and that it is safer than coal mining.
Robert Watkins, general manager of Tinker Watkins Sand and Gravel, said that his company had received one violation in 2006, but has received 56 this year, even though he has never had a single employee injured since opening the mine in 1937. He told the news agency that aggregates mines had been lumped together with underground coal mines. Although he said he believes MSHA to be a good organization, he also stated that he believes the agency has gone from focusing on safety to being a revenue generator.
Alexander, Blackburn, and Tanner staff members urged Watkins to get in contact with other surface mines outside Tennessee that are dealing with the same problems, in order to gain support in focusing attention on what could be a national problem. The staff members also suggested writing a formal letter to MSHA requesting a look into how fines are given out.
Representatives of another Tennessee-based aggregates company, Teague Transports, told jacksonsun.com that they may have to shut down if they face too many fines. In April 2009, the company was fined $20,000 for a gravel screening plant that had passed 28 earlier inspections.
Fines for non-coal industry miners increased from $12.9 million to $41.6 million between 2000 and 2008, while the number of fatalities dropped from 25 in 1978 to five in 2007, despite a slight increase in the number of surface mines.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee said he was concerned about the miners’ situation, but wanted more time to examine how they are being regulated. “Having that large a number show up certainly raised an alarm,” he told the news agency. “We want to make sure the federal government isn’t being heavy handed.”
The Illinois Association of Aggregates Producers (IAAP) reported that its members are seeing an increasing number of citations. The association said it keeps up with citations issued to its individual members and passes the information along to the rest of its membership to help them “stay ahead of the enforcement hammer.” IAAP works closely with equipment manufacturers to address safety issues, such as handrails and safety loops on mobile equipment and pinch-point guards on screen plants, which have been the focus of many of the citations issued to its members.
The IAAP Safety Committee met with MSHA to discuss its members’ concerns about MSHA’s current enforcement initiative and planned to meet with the agency again during the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) “Aggregates in Action” Fall Fly-In that took place in Washington, D.C. in late September.
The NSSGA said it developed a Mine Action Safety Plan, including safety charts and a comparison of industries, to present to members of Congress and MSHA officials during the Fall Fly-In. The NSSGA hopes to make Congress aware of MSHA’s increasingly aggressive enforcement program, and make MSHA officials aware of aggregate industry concerns and try to develop a more productive working relationship with the agency, including the continuation of the MSHA/NSSGA Alliance.
At Aggregates Manager press time, the Fly-In had not yet taken place, but information about the meeting will be posted in Aggbeat Online on our Web site, www.aggman.com.
Congress likely to extend current transportation authorization
One of the pressing legislative issues facing Congress, other than healthcare reform, is an extension of the federal surface transportation program that was set to expire on Sept. 30. Before the Congressional break during August, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under the leadership of Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), wanted to pass a six-year $500-billion surface transportation measure ($450 billion for highways and transit, $50 billion for high-speed rail). The Senate pushed for an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation program.
According to Innovation NewsBriefs, observers believe that hope for the enactment of a long-term transportation bill this year has all but vanished — no one wants to raise the fuel tax at this time to pay for the $500 billion program — so it is likely that the 18-month extension will pass.
At Aggregates Manager press time, a final decision had not been reached. Watch for updates in Aggbeat Online on our Web site, www.aggman.com.
No limestone trade rebound in the Great Lakes
The recession continued to take its toll on the Great Lakes limestone trade in August, according to a statement from the Lake Carriers’ Association in Rocky River, Ohio. Shipments from U.S. and Canadian ports in August totaled only 3,048,988 net tons of aggregate, a decrease of 31.4 percent compared to a year ago. The weak demand for stone, forced some of the U.S. Flag Lakes fleet to lay-up for a period of time during the month.
The limestone trade stands at 13.4 million tons for 2009, a decrease of 34.6 percent compared to a year ago. Shipments for 2009 are 40.5 percent below the five-year average for the January-August timeframe.
NIOSH gets new director
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that John Howard, M.D., will be the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) effective immediately. This will be a repeat performance for Dr. Howard, as he served as NIOSH director from 2002 through 2008.
Cobb Rock Quarry named outstanding mine operator
Cobb Rock Quarry, owned and operated by Seattle-based CalPortland Co., formerly known as Glacier Northwest, has been named the outstanding mine operator in Division 1 by Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI). The award is based on the “neat, orderly, stable, and safe” development of the site. According to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s eDigest & Washington Watch, Cobb Rock was chosen based on its long record of voluntary reclamation, a well-planned and implemented operation, and its outstanding compliance record with DOGAMI and Department of Environmental Quality permits issued for the site.
The first DOGAMI inspection report on the site was issued in 1974, indicating that the quarry had an excellent long-term development plan, all soils were being stockpiled for later use in reclamation, and trees had been planted along the site’s property line to provide visual screening for neighbors. A 1980 inspection report noted that reclamation was being conducted in mined-out areas as mining continued in other areas. This voluntary reclamation continues today.
Vulcan supports Foothills Conservancy
The Birmingham, Ala.-based Vulcan Materials Co. Foundation awarded Foothills Conservancy, Morgantown, N.C., $2,500 to support land and water conservation in the Blue Ridge Foothills. According to NSSGA’s eDigest & Washington Watch newsletter, the conservancy, a regional nonprofit land trust, has protected almost 45,000 acres since 1995 by working with willing landowners and community partners to preserve natural areas and open spaces of the Blue Ridge Foothills region, including watersheds, significant wildlife habitats, forests, and rural farmlands. The support from Vulcan will help the conservancy expand both public and private protection of lands in the upper Catawba River Basin and assist landowners who want to conserve working agricultural and forest lands.
“Vulcan has been a wonderful partner in our protection efforts since 2002,” Susie Hamrick Jones, executive director of Foothills Conservancy, told NSSGA. “We thank the Vulcan Materials Company Foundation for this latest gift and will put it to work as we continue our conservation efforts.”
Sandvik Mining and Construction and Dyno Nobel are, once again, offering their Quarry Academy. The academy will take place Nov. 3-5 at Sandvik’s new training center in Atlanta. The three-day, in-depth educational program will cover the integration and optimization of quarry processes, including planning, drilling and blasting, hauling, conveying, crushing, and more. The program’s classroom training is enhanced with hands-on workshops and field trips. The curriculum is targeted to quarry owners, operations managers, and staff engineers.
A call for entries for NSSGA’s Safety & Health Awards
The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) is accepting entries and nominations for its annual awards recognizing excellence in safety and health. The awards presentation will take place at AGG 1 slated for Feb. 15-18, 2010, in Cincinnati.
* Safety Excellence Award — originated in 1987, is based on the ability of an individual aggregates facility to maintain a safe workplace, evidenced by its safety performance over a period of time without an MSHA reportable injury.
* Sterling Award — created in 1994, recognizes individual companies’ safety performances. The individual producer company that achieves the lowest total incidence rate for the previous calendar year, in its respective category, will receive top honors. In the event of a tie, competitors’ total incident rates in preceding, consecutive years are compared until the best incidence rate is identified.
* James M. Christie Safety and Health Professional Award — established in 1987, recognizes one individual for superior and substantial contributions to his or her company’s — and the industry’s — effort toward proactive safe operating practices. This competition is open to any member safety and health professional with direct responsibility for the establishment, administration, implementation, and/or enforcement of corporate safety and health policy who has also made significant contributions to the industry’s safety and health responsiveness, is actively involved in either NSSGA’s or a state safety and health program, and has direct, day-to-day involvement in his or her own company’s safety and health affairs.