Brooke Wisdom

March 3, 2011

Overall mining deaths up in 2010

NSSGA: ‘We cannot rest until fatalities among aggregates workers reach and are sustained at zero.”

by Tina Grady Barbaccia, News and Digital Editor

Mining fatalities in the United States increased in 2010, following a year marked by the fewest deaths in mining history, according to a recent report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Seventy-one miners died on the job last year, compared to 34 in 2009. Forty-eight of those deaths occurred in coal mines, and 23 occurred at metal and non-metal operations, according to MSHA.

Of the 71 mining fatalities reported, 23 of those victims were killed in surface mining accidents, while 48 miners died in underground mining accidents, 29 of whom were killed in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in April 2010, according to MSHA. The leading cause of coal mining deaths was ignition or explosion, followed by powered haulage and roof falls. The leading cause of metal/non-metal mining deaths was powered haulage, followed by falling or sliding material, and machinery.

“While 2010 will be remembered for the explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine, we are mindful that 42 additional miners’ lives also ended in tragedy,” Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, says in a written statement. “Increasing our efforts to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for our nation’s miners is the best way to honor the memory of those who died.”

The most important task is for mine operators to “take responsibility for the health and safety conditions in their mines to prevent tragedies,” Main adds, noting that mining deaths are preventable “so actions must be undertaken to prevent them.”

Where should MSHA go from here?

Joe Casper, vice president for safety services at the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), says the association “recommends that the agency focus on the areas of the greatest risk.

“Sadly,” he tells Aggregates Manager, “five members of the aggregates industry workforce lost their lives in 2010. NSSGA’s Safety and Health Guiding Principles and our Safety Pledge remind us that we cannot rest until fatalities among aggregates workers reach and are sustained at zero.”

For almost every state and company, this is already the case, Casper says, adding that “finding what else we can do to prudently manage against fatal risk continues to be our challenge. NSSGA members are committed to workers returning home every night in at least as good a condition as when they arrived at work.”

Casper also notes that there continues to be what he says is progress in protecting workers from the highest risks as the number of fatalities reduces. There were five fatalities to aggregates operator personnel in 2010 compared to seven in 2009, according to NSSGA.

“NSSGA member companies and their personnel, from board house to scale house operators, continually renew their commitment to safer and safer operations, to eradicating fatal accidents, and to continuing reduction of injuries,” Casper says. “This applies not only to our member operations but to the industry nationwide by sharing with any other operators all we know about improving the safety and health of the entire workforce.”

MSHA has taken a number of actions to identify mines with safety issues, and has initiated a number of outreach and enforcement initiatives, including “Rules to Live By,” a fatality prevention program spotlighting the safety and health standards most frequently cited during fatal accident investigations. In addition, MSHA says it has “engaged in a number of targeted enforcement, awareness, and outreach and rulemaking activities in 2010 to reduce the number of mining fatalities, accidents, and illnesses.”

New rules and legislation: Pattern of violations and mine safety

On Feb. 2, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on Pattern of Violations (30 CFR Part 104), but the proposal may be troubling to aggregates operators.

The rule would specify the criteria such as compliance, accident, injury, and illness records to be used for identifying facilities eligible for pattern status. It also would drop the previously promised mandate that MSHA would forewarn operators of the potential that one of its facilities could be placed onto pattern status.  

Additionally, the rule would call for MSHA to solely rely on issued citations — as opposed to those that will have been fully adjudicated — when determining whether a facility should be placed on pattern status. 

Concern has been raised in the aggregates industry about due process rights for facility operators.

Interestingly, MSHA would post the specific POV criteria, along with compliance information, in a database that would be searchable by mine, at The site would allow operators to monitor their own records against the POV criteria and take steps to eliminate persistent, systemic safety and health hazards, and bring their mines into compliance with regulations.

However, it would eliminate the potential POV procedure, which involves written notification that a potential POV exists at a particular mining operation.

This means that mine operators would no longer receive advance warning. Screening under the proposed rule would be for mine operators that meet criteria for a pattern of violations, and the proposal would increase the frequency of MSHA’s review of a mine for a POV to twice a year.

However, according to MSHA, the proposed rule would: 

1) Simplify the existing POV criteria and MSHA’s procedures for issuing a POV notice;

2) Provide for a more open and transparent process;

3) Encourage chronic violators to comply with MSHA’s safety and health standards;

4) Result in improved health and safety conditions for miners; and

5) More effectively achieve the statutory intent.

(The proposed rule is available for viewing at the Federal Register Public Inspection Desk at The comment period for the proposed rule will close on April 4. To submit comments electronically, send an e-mail to For additional information on the proposed POV rule, see Rock Law on page 56.

A new mine safety bill is also in the works. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have reintroduced a mine safety bill.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act of 2011 (S. 153) is almost the exact same bill that was introduced in the Senate last year — the only changes were minor stylistic edits.

The legislation would provide for major changes to both the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The legislation is considered “a placeholder until the investigation into the Upper Big Branch disaster is completed,” notes the Industrial Minerals Association — North America (IMA-NA)

The goal was to complete the investigation by April, but there may be a delay in the public release of those materials as a criminal investigation proceeds. “It is important to note that it is very unlikely that this legislation would be able to pass either the Senate or the House in its current form,” according to IMA-NA.

For a downloadable PDF of the full legislation go to or use the shortened link




U.S. is ‘grossly under-investing in infrastructure

The Texas Transportation Institute’ s (TTI) 2010 Urban Mobility Report released in January “is the clearest evidence yet that urban congestion is increasing alarmingly and costs to the economy skyrocketing,” according to leaders of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA).

The association says that Congress needs to “act now” to bring relief to American commuters. NSSGA Chairman of the Board Bill Schneider says that everybody in America “uses” its highways and basic infrastructure systems, and the TTI report just reinforces that without proper attention to repairing and modernizing the nation’s transportation systems, congestion is getting worse and costing the economy more.

Drivers have paid user fees into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to ensure responsible maintenance of our vast national highway system, which is about 10 percent of the 4 million road miles in America, notes Schneider, who is president and CEO of Bismarck, N.D.,-based Knife River Corp. However, the user fees of 1993 aren’t able to keep up with the maintenance or improvement demands of 2011, he points out.

“Efficient mobility is safe mobility and makes us competitive,” Schneider says in a written statement. “Providing for interstate commerce is not only rooted in our Constitution, it also creates good-paying private sector American jobs. Delay means higher costs to repair later; more wasted fuel and time; and continued crumbling of our basic national transportation systems.”

The nation has been “grossly under-investing” in U.S. infrastructure, says NSSGA President and CEO Joy Wilson. “Its capacity has simply not kept up with an ever-increasing population and traffic,” she says in an association press release. “We’re paying the price in congestion now, but also in less visible ways.”

In a Jan. 18 letter to the President, the Association of Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) used the results of the TTI study as just one of several reasons that Congress must be urged to pass a strong, six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill. “Over the last six months…there has been no tangible movement towards enactment of a long-term surface transportation bill, which is now 15 months overdue,” Pete Ruane, president and CEO of ARTBA, wrote in the letter. “Disturbing signs, though, continue to appear.”

The “disturbing signs” Ruane cites include construction industry unemployment continuing to rise, which he cites at close to 21 percent, more than double the national average. He also points out the TTI study’s findings report that traffic congestion in the United States is costing a “record” $115 billion annual drag on the U.S. economy.

“Your active and aggressive leadership is urgently needed now to break the languor in Congress and avert the serious, short- and long-term economic consequences of allowing the nation’s surface transportation improvement programs to take a several decades step backward.”

For a summary of the TTI report or for the full report and appendices, go to

TTI report key findings:

• Congestion costs continue to rise at astronomical rates.

• Congestion costs have gone from $24 billion in 1982 to $115 billion in 2009. This equates to a cost to the average commuter of $808 a year.

• Congestion wastes a massive amount of time, fuel, and money. In 2009, 3.9 billion gallons of fuel were wasted and 4.8 billion hours of extra time spent.

• Congestion affects people who make trips during the peak period. Yearly peak period delay for the average commuter was 34 hours in 2009, up from 14 hours in 1982.

• Congestion is also a problem at other hours.

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