October 4, 2012
During a recent conversation with Joe Main, he touted MSHA’s work with aggregate associations to bring about safety improvements.
By Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Joseph A. Main, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), has been busy since the last time we spoke. He has been making the rounds, visiting with mining operations and aggregate associations across the country, to brainstorm new ideas and initiatives, get feedback, and let the industry know what the agency is doing to advance mine safety.
“We have a number of alliances throughout the mining industry and with the NSSGA (National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association) that bring about productive discussions leading to improvements,” Main says.
Main outlined several initiatives MSHA has undertaken since last year. One initiative was the development of a Power Point pilot program to help clarify conveyor system guarding standards and requirements. “We’ve had a 39-percent reduction in guarding violations since its implementation,” Mains says. “That program is like the flagship of programs we want to implement and work through with the mining industry.”
A new guarding program, to be released soon, will provide compliance information on all types of equipment guarding other than belt conveyors. “We’re close to bringing out the next version,” Main adds. “We’ve had help from the mining industry to develop it. Hopefully, it will provide more clarity about what is required on guarding of non-conveyor systems.”
Another new program deals with fall protection, providing more clarity and guidance on what is required. According to Main, the agency based its standard on an existing OSHA one. “We’ve had good success with that,” he says.
Main wants to focus on the areas of confusion regarding standards. “We’re looking at identifying other standards that need additional clarity,” he says. “That’s what we hear more than anything on the metal/non-metal side. They want consistency in what we do and want us to tell them what we want in terms of what’s required of the standards.”
“We’re looking at identifying other standards that need additional clarity,”
— Joseph A. Main
MSHA is addressing the consistency concern through the training of its supervisors and inspectors. “We are now in the third round of training metal/non-metal inspectors,” Main says. “We added new components on professionalism. We have a job to do. We’re required by law to do it. It involves inspecting mines and issuing citations for some conditions, but we need to do that in a professional manner.”
The Rules to Live By program is deemed of utmost importance by Main. “We’re working to improve and expand that program,” he says. “If we intend to eliminate the most common types of fatalities in the mining industry, we’ve got to focus more attention on them. That’s exactly what the Rules to Live By program does. We want to see this information become part of the training given to new miners and be used in retraining as well.”
Two more programs making a difference, according to Main, are the impact inspection program and the potential Pattern of Violations program. “We believe these programs have had a positive impact in reshaping the mining industry in this country,” he says. “Statistics show marked improvement for mines that have gone through the programs.”
The revamped Small Mines Consulting Program (SMCP) has helped smaller operations to comply with regulations. MSHA recently asked state aggregates associations to host a visit from the SMCP at an aggregates facility in order to demonstrate its compliance assistance tools.
The reinstatement of the pre-assessment conference has made a huge difference to aggregates operations as well. Once again, operations are able to resolve issues at the district level without resorting to litigation.
“I think the overriding message is that we’re moving in the right direction,” Main says. “We realize there’s more that needs to be done, and that we can do, but if you look at where we are, we’re making a positive difference.”