America's miners play a major role in the country's mining industry, providing raw materials for a wide range of uses. This has historically been dangerous work – and still is for the 325,000 men and women who currently work in nearly 13,000 surface and underground mines across the United States. Over the years, safety regulations have worked to reduce common hazards miners encounter. That includes a requirement by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (Mine Act) that the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspect all mines each year to ensure safe and healthy work environments for miners. MSHA’s regulations establish other critical requirements, in addition to safety and health standards, for items like notification of mine operator accidents and training programs.
Designated by Congress, National Miners Day is celebrated on December 6th to remember miners who have passed while working in the mines and to honor the hard work of American miners. Read on for a closer look at mine safety – how far we’ve come, MSHA’s role, and today’s most pressing issues and safety solutions, including ways to enhance the health and safety of those who work in mining environments.
Mine Safety – Why
Safety is critical in mining in order to reduce the injuries and fatalities miners suffer while on the job. The field of mine safety encompasses many areas. It includes a wide range of data and studies on the types of accidents that occur, their likelihood and effective ways of eliminating their causes. Over the past century, this concerted effort continues to reduce fatalities and serious injuries. As a general trend, each year sees fewer fatalities than the previous one. Common types of mine accidents in both coal and metal/non-metal mines involve:
- Falling materials
- Electrical equipment
- Falling roofing
- Powered haulage
- Fall of face (mine walls)
- Non-powered haulage
- Slipping or tripping
Each type of accident may have a variety of causes, including equipment malfunction, human error, inadequate training or poor safety equipment. Many hazards can be made increasingly safe through measures such as risk assessment and setting standards for equipment maintenance and inspection. However, many of the activities and machinery necessary to mining unavoidably present some degree of danger. The way to reduce risks for these situations can consist of steps such as improved mine safety training and clear signage to alert miners of relevant hazards.
Early Mine Safety
and the History of MSHA
The first federal mine safety law was passed in 1891, and the Bureau of Mines, the first federal agency tasked with researching and implementing mine safety, was established in 1910. In the ensuing years, the agency's authority was expanded and further safety laws were passed. At the time, safety laws focused on coal mines. The Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966 was the first federal legislation to cover safety in other types of mines.
In 1969, Congress passed the Coal Act, which introduced stricter standards and penalties for enforcing safety. In 1973, the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) was created to take over the Bureau's safety enforcement tasks. MSHA, which continues to fulfill mining health and safety enforcement functions today, was formed in 1978 as the successor to MESA.
In particular, MSHA enforces the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act as amended by the MINER Act of 2006. It researches and analyzes relevant data in order to develop effective health and safety standards.
Top Mine Safety
Occupational safety agencies including MSHA and OSHA have identified several issues to focus on in recent years. MSHA has drawn attention to three electricity-related accidents that occurred recently. Its recommendations for increased safety when working with electrical equipment include:
- Implementing proper training for equipment operation and troubleshooting
- Identifying and controlling energy sources before beginning work
- Following lockout/tagout procedures
- Using proper personal protective equipment
In 2019, equipment fires were another source of several accidents. MSHA's safety alert recommends several best practices to reduce the likelihood of similar accidents in the future as well as the likelihood of injuries stemming from them. These include regular inspection and maintenance of the equipment in question, as well as installation of functional alarms and fire suppression systems. Other measures include providing a safe and clearly marked exit path for miners and thorough training for safe equipment operation and fire suppression in the event of an accident.
MSHA's fire suppression and power haulage safety initiatives focus on some top causes of accidents during the past years. In addition to other elements, both initiatives emphasize the need for easy identification of hazardous areas as well as a clearly marked evacuation route.
MSHA investigates and prepares reporting for each mining fatality in the United States to keep the mining community alert of accidents and to help prevent similar occurrences from happening. In 2019 alone, several mining-related deaths were reported with causes including electricity, machinery, hoisting, powered haulage, falling sidewalls and high walls, slips and falls and more. With each fatality alert, MSHA describes the accident and issues a list of best practices, including training that may have prevented it.
Communication to Improve Mine Safety
In the above electrical and fire incidents, as well as in many other common scenarios, proper equipment safety labels and safety signs can play a vital role in helping to prevent accidents or minimize damage. Clear and visible labeling on equipment with hazardous power sources helps avoid inadvertently failing to shut them off before performing service or maintenance procedures. Signs and labels marking areas where hazards such as gas or chemicals may be present is also an essential part of promoting safety.
Here at Clarion Safety, we offer a range of high quality, durable labels, signs and tags for the mining industry and many others, including construction. From machine risk assessment services to custom warnings, we’re dedicated to safer products and safer work environments. Our products are made in the USA in our state-of-the-art production facility in Milford, PA. With in-house customer service, we always have our finger on the pulse of your project – and can be responsive to your changing needs. Reach out to us and let us know how we can help with your safety and compliance requirements.
This blog was originally posted on 12/5/19 and has been updated with new information throughout.