October 2009 – AggBeat
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.
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