MSHA talks about the Small Mines Program

Therese Dunphy

February 18, 2013

Joe Main

Last week, I interviewed Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main and Administrator in the Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health Administration Neal Merrifield. The main topic of our conversation was guarding in aggregate operations (be sure to check out Operations Illustrated in the March issue). 

As we talked, I asked about enforcement with small operators who don’t have the same dedicated safety resources as a number of their peers. “One of the program changes we made about a year ago was to revamp our Small Mines Program,” Main says. “Neal and I made all of these trips across the country and met with a number of state associations and asked them to partner with our Small Mines Program. By the same token, we’ve instructed our Small Mines Program to work with them.” The goal, he says, is to funnel more assistance to small mine operators more rapidly. “We’re hoping to use that structure, in conjunction with the state aggregate associations out there across the country, to help provide even greater guidance and assistance to small operators.”

Neal Merrifield

Merrifield says that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is also trying to streamline compliance for small operators who may also fall under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) jurisdiction. One example is with regard to fall protection. “Our standard would say you have to have fall protection so you don’t get injured or hurt,” Merrifield says. “OSHA is more specific. It talks about having  protection at 6 feet. That’s by design because all fall protection is designed in 6-foot increments. Now, we have a common area to talk about when you have to protect yourself.”

Another area where MSHA is working with small operators is with its 5002 initiative, which deals with airborne contaminants for dust, gas, and mist. Operators are required to do their own surveys to ensure miners are adequately protected against airborne contaminants. Often, that involves measuring exposure with sampling equipment.

“Small operators don’t have this equipment, and it costs money to hire somebody else to do it,” Merrifield says. “We’ve told them there are other ways to do it. You can make sure your dust suppression is working. You can go out and look at these things you have already put in place without doing additional (investments) and satisfy yourself that they are all working. If you have a water truck and you’re going to water down your roadways, or your crusher, where a lot of your dust comes from, do a survey and make sure these things are working. You don’t have to go out and spend a lot of money on sampling equipment.”

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