MSHA chief Joe Main was in Charleston again this morning for the second of two events (the first was yesterday in Austin, Texas) to kick of his agency’s new “Rules to Live By” campaign.
Labor Department officials announced the program last week, saying it was an effort to “spotlight” and “target” the types of safety and health violations most frequently cited by MSHA inspectors during investigations of mining deaths.
MSHA staffers went through the reports for 589 mining deaths (coal and non-coal) from 2000 through 2008. They came up with a list of 11 coal standards and 13 non-coal standards that were most frequently cited in those death investigations. There aren’t any big surprises … the coal list includes things like roof control violations and poorly maintained equipment.
In the coal industry, nearly half of the 300 deaths from 2000 through 2008 involved a violation of one of these rules. MSHA has added to its Web site some more charts and graphs about its findings. I’ve asked, but still not been provided, with a breakdown that shows how many deaths were attributable to each of the frequently violated standards.
Gazette readers may remember our 2006 series, Beyond Sago: Mine Safety in America, which reported among other things that mining deaths are almost always caused by a mining operator who doesn’t follow well established safety rules and regulations.
The original MSHA press release included this interesting bit of information from the agency’s review of 2000 to 2008 coal-mining deaths:
During the nine-year period, the highest number of coal mine fatalities occurred in West Virginia (94), followed by Kentucky (78).
C.A. Phillips, deputy director of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, said his agency plans to look at the state’s rules that are comparable to the standards MSHA’s new project is targeting.
Interestingly, though, 36 of those 94 West Virginia mining deaths involved any of the standards MSHA says are most frequently cited. That’s a little more than one-third, compared to the national figure of 47 percent. So, it also might be interesting to see what the other causes of deaths here are, compared to what MSHA found across the country.
Initially, the MSHA program is focused on education and training. but starting in mid-March, MSHA plans to have inspectors begin “enhanced enforcement” of the targeted safety standards. Inspectors are to focus “increased scrutiny” of violations of the standards. Operators can expect inspectors to “evaluate gravity and negligence carefully, consistent with the seriousness of the violation, when citing violations of priority standards.”Such violations will be considered for increased monetary penalties.
But Main, the former longtime United Mine Workers of America safety director, wasn’t exactly talking all that tough at today’s kick-off event, attended by a small crowd of miners, mine safety officials and industry folks:
This is as much as training and education issue as it is an enforcement issue.
And several speakers at the event used part of their time to say that improving safety performance might help take some media and public heat off the coal industry.
Joe Carter, the UMWA’s District 17 vice president, said labor and industry both need to not rest of recent improvements in mine safety efforts:
Don’t let it stall here. We can set our goal at zero fatalities.
But Carter added that poor safety performance “hurts the reputation of the coal industry … and we could use a little help right now.”
Kenny Murray, a former top MSHA official who is now vice president of operations for Alliance Coal, said industry and labor need to work together on safety issues to avoid coming “under attack by the media” and by those who would “paint us as being evil.”
Murray said the industry “has been under attack,” but noted that coal operators have spent an estimated $1 billion to comply with the requirements of the 2006 MINER Act, passed after the deaths of 18 miners at Sago, Aracoma and Darby. (Murray, by the way, was MSHA’s lead investigator at Aracoma).
Today’s event closed with remarks from Jill McIntyre, whose father, Mark McIntyre, was killed on Dec. 29, 2008, at a CONSOL Energy barge-loading facility in Marshall County, W.Va. Here’s some video of what she had to say: