June 2, 2011
A decade-long review of MSHA statistics shows that more miners are going home safely.
By Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
Enter most aggregate operations throughout the United States and a safety slogan is likely to be one of the first signs you see as you cross through the gates. And for good reason: According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 178 stone, sand, and gravel miners have lost their lives since 2000. Any fatality is one too many, so throughout the last decade, companies have ramped up safety initiatives to protect their employees.
Steps toward safer operations
A number of factors may be driving improvements in the safety of U.S. aggregate operations, including two developments in 2003: the formation of the Small Mine Office (see page 10) and a strategic alliance struck between the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and MSHA. As part of the 2003 alliance agreement, industry and regulatory leaders voluntarily pledged to help reduce the incidence injury rate in their operations; to promote safe and healthful working conditions; to develop training and education programs and share best practices; and to achieve technical assistance goals such as conducting evaluations of applied engineering to improve mine safety and health and to conduct analysis to identify potential hazardous health and safety conditions.
Over the last 10 years, improvements in safety have been significant. For example, while there were 21 surface mining fatalities among stone, sand, and gravel operators in 2000; that number dropped to six in 2010. Incidence rates for non-fatal occurrences with days lost (NFDL) in surface stone operations dropped from 3.78 in 2000 to 1.94 in 2010 (a 49-percent decrease) and declined in surface sand and gravel operations from 2.95 in 2000 to 1.68 in 2010 (a 43-percent decrease). Occurrences with no days lost (NDL) in surface stone operations plummeted from an incidence rate of 1.80 in 2000 to 0.81 in 2010 (a 55-percent decrease) and fell in surface sand and gravel operations from 1.43 in 2000 to 0.84 in 2010 (a 41-percent decrease).
Continuing the path of safety
In 2009, stone, sand, and gravel mining fatalities fell to an all-time low of six fatalities (including underground mines and mills). In an effort to continue to maintain a downward momentum on mining accidents, MSHA analyzed eight years of fatalities to identify the root causes of those accidents and identified standards — including 13 in metal/non-metal mining — that led to those fatalities. Those standards, outlined in MSHA’s Rules to Live By initiative, address nine accident categories including the following: falls from elevation; falls of roof or rib; operating mobile equipment (surface); operating mobile equipment (underground); maintenance; lock out and tag out; struck by mobile equipment (surface); struck by mobile equipment (underground); and blocking against motion.
For a list of the agency’s priority enforcement standards, as well as the most common standards cited in stone, sand, and gravel mines, scan the tag on page 14 using your smart phone.
When reviewing accident trends, it’s worthwhile to note incidence rates according to location (see Figure 1). For example, California and Texas — two leading states in terms of production tonnage and employee hours — recorded the highest numbers of NFDL with 82 and 81, respectively. However, incidence rate calculations adjust raw numbers based on the number of employee hours worked so that a more accurate rate may be measured. Based on MSHA’s calculation formula, the following states/territories had the highest NFDL incidence rates in 2010 (these rates include surface stone, sand, and gravel mines only): West Virginia (5.78), New Jersey (4.05), Puerto Rico (3.10), Maryland (3.01), and Indiana (2.79). Conversely, Delaware (0), Maine (0.83), North Dakota (0.92), Utah (0.93), and Missouri (0.97) were the states with the lowest NFDL incident rates.
It is also worth noting that — of the 10,136 surface stone, sand, and gravel mines reviewed by MSHA in 2010 — 9, 325 reported no NFDL incidents. Of the 811 operations that reported a NFDL incident, 612 (75.5 percent) had a single NFDL incident, while another 118 (14.5 percent) had two NFDL incidents. At the other end of the spectrum, 17 operations (0.02 percent) had five or more NFDL incidents, and two operations (0.002 percent) recorded 10 or more NFDL incidents.
The cost of unsafe behavior?
In 2010, MSHA issued 45,720 citations to 8,013 surface stone, sand, and gravel mines. The total proposed fine amount was $19,063,193. Of these, 15 mine sites received 50 or more citations during the year. Those 15 sites recorded a total of 973 citations with a total proposed fine amount of $1,001,582. This represents the operations with the highest number of citations, but not necessarily the highest proposed fines. The mine receiving the largest proposed fine amount in 2010 received 78 citations with a proposed penalty of $238,995.
Not all mines received multiple penalties or high proposed fine amounts, however. Of the mines receiving citations, 1,534 were issued a single citation during 2010. Dozens of those sites were allotted a proposed fine amount of $100.
The bottom line
With an intense focus on unsafe behavior throughout both the industry and the regulatory community, what often goes unnoticed is the vast number of producers who operate safe sites. According to MSHA data, it collected safety statistics on 11,357 stone, sand, and gravel operations in 2010. Of those operations, 99.9 percent did not experience a fatality and 92 percent did not experience a non-fatal occurrence with lost workdays. Citation data shows that the vast majority of citations are issued to a very small percentage of operators.
As well-run aggregate operations continue to improve their safety performance, the divide between these safe operations and unsafe ones continues to grow. MSHA data reveals that today’s aggregate operations are much safer places to work than they were even a decade ago. As producers operate safe, responsible mines, attention should shift to those who haven’t yet gotten the message that safety comes first.
View the 13 priority enforcement standards MSHA has identified for metal/non-metal mines, as well as standards most commonly cited in stone, sand, and gravel mines. To get the free app, enter http://gettag.mobi into your browser.