Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Surface Mining Accidents Under MSHA Scrutiny

Two-thirds of all mining accidents in 2011 involved surface mining. That is why the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will focus safety and enforcement efforts on surface mining this year.

Surface mining involves the removal of soil and rock over mineral deposits and the use of excavators to extract minerals. There are five types of surface mining: strip mining, open-pit mining, dredging, mountaintop removal and highwall mining.

There were 37 surface mine deaths in 2011. According to MSHA director, Joe Main, the string of catastrophic accidents that caused five of those deaths were enough to push forward stage three of "Rules to Live By," which is entitled "Preventing Common Mining Deaths."

The MSHA identified conditions that likely lead to fatal accidents in surface mining. They will use this information to enforce safety standards, including standards related to:

  • On-shift safety exams and training
  • Machinery maintenance and operation
  • Pits and highwalls
  • Use of safety equipment, including life jackets and belts
  • Slope stability and wall stability
  • Record keeping

The MSHA will also train inspectors to better evaluate negligence at coal mines and speak to miners to ensure they understand the hazards present at surface mines.

The MSHA has faced criticism for not doing enough to enforce safety measures and prevent dangerous conditions in surface mines, including not preventing the 2010 Massey Energy Co. coal mine disaster in West Virginia. In that accident, a coal mine explosion killed 29 miners. Investigators said that company negligence caused the mining disaster and that leadership at the company put profit over safety.

As Joe Main said to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Fatalities are preventable." We hope that the MSHA's actions will help prevent some of the surface mining accidents that needlessly take lives and cause serious injuries.

For those surface mining accidents that occur, we must hold the negligent parties accountable, whether the accident was caused by a company's reckless policies or a fellow workers' negligent actions.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Surface Mine Accidents Targeted," Chris Togneri, Feb. 1, 2012.

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