Remarks of Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
41st Annual West Virginia Mining Symposium, Charleston, W Va
January 30, 2014
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to update you on the actions taken by MSHA and the mining community to improve mine safety and health, and on the results. Over the past year, MSHA has implemented several changes, continuing the transformation we have made to our agency, and to mine safety. I will share some of those with you today.
While progress has been made in a number of areas in mine safety and health, and in the mine safety and health culture in the industry, more improvements are needed to protect the nation’s miners.
Path of improvement
MSHA’s data shows that mine safety has been on a steady path of improvement since we began implementing reforms in 2010, including a reduction in the number of chronic violators and better compliance with mine safety and health standards. Most importantly, during this period, the industry achieved the lowest fatality and injury rates in the history of mining in 2011 and again in 2012; that trend continued through fiscal 2013.
The first three quarters of 2013 also contributed to the lowest fatal and injury rates and the fewest number of deaths, at 33, ever recorded in mining in a fiscal year during the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013. 3
However, the fourth quarter of 2013 did not follow that trend, and 15 miners, including six in coal, died in mining accidents during that period. During the entire year, 42 miners died, an increase of six over last year. Of those fatalities, 20 were in coal mining and 22 were in metal/nonmetal mining, compared with 20 and 16, respectively, in 2012.
Four mining deaths in 2013 – two in coal and two in metal/nonmetal - involved contractors. This is the fewest number of contractor deaths since MSHA began maintaining contractor data in 1983.
The 2013 coal fatalities occurred in nine states. Six were in West Virginia, followed by Illinois with four; two each in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming; and one in Alabama, Indiana, Ohio and Utah. Of the six West Virginia mining deaths, five occurred during a six week period ending March 13, 2013. MSHA immediately launched an effort to respond to that increase in deaths. Following that, there was only one mining death in the state in 2013, which occurred on October 4.
Common accident causes
The most common causes of mining accidents in 2013 for both coal and metal/nonmetal involved machinery and powered haulage equipment.
In coal alone, there were seven fatal accidents involving powered haulage equipment and six fatal accidents involving machinery. In addition, there was one coal fatality involving hoisting, two involving the fall of a roof or back and two involving the fall of a face rib or highwall. There was one coal death caused by exploding vessels under pressure and one by drowning. Four of coal’s fatalities could have been prevented with proximity detection systems.
MSHA provided further information on these fatalities and best practices to prevent them to mining industry stakeholders, including mine operators, miners and trainers. That information can be found on MSHA’s web site.
More improvements needed
While MSHA and the entire mining community have made a number of improvements and have been moving mine safety in the right direction in the past few years, the increased number of fatalities in 2013 makes clear that we need to do more to protect our nation’s miners from injury, illness and death.
MSHA has implemented a number of initiatives that we believe have improved mine safety and health. Those include the special emphasis impact inspection program ongoing since 2010; the Pattern of Violations (POV) process revised in 2010 and the revised POV regulations implemented last year; the Rules to Live By initiative, which focuses on the most common types of mining deaths initiated in 2010; the End Black Lung---Act Now campaign to reduce the incidence of that disease among the nation’s miners started in late 2009 and the Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards final rule implemented in 2012, targeting specific standards.
Also ongoing are activities to enhance enforcement of the Mine Act provisions that protect miners from safety discrimination; reduce the backlog of contested citations; increase auditing of miner training sessions; and increase outreach to mining stakeholders.
Sequestration, shutdown affected MSHA functions
As I am sure you are aware, this past year was a challenging one for MSHA as the sequestration budget actions resulted in serious funding cuts to the agency’s operations; the government shutdown in October further complicated the ability of MSHA to fulfill its mission.
As a result, MSHA had to implement serious austerity measures throughout the agency, making difficult choices along the way.
Despite the funding reductions and government shutdown, MSHA was able to make headway in implementing initiatives and other actions to improve miner health and safety.
Upper Big Branch mine disaster repercussions
That included work to address the 100 internal review recommendations resulting from MSHA’s review of its actions prior to the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster. The internal review report was issued on March 6, 2012, and MSHA set aggressive timetables for responding to these recommendations. I personally committed that we would complete our corrective actions by the end of 2013, and we were able to meet that deadline.
This Upper Big Branch review was one of the most comprehensive internal reviews conducted in MSHA history, and the corrective actions MSHA took have resulted in the most extensive changes at MSHA in decades, improving mine safety and health for the nation’s miners and changing how we do business at the agency.
MSHA did not wait for the internal review to publish its findings and recommendations before it put into place a number of administrative, organizational and regulatory reforms to respond to the tragedy. Some reforms were in progress before the tragedy occurred and many began immediately following the tragedy.
They included the implementation of the special emphasis enforcement programs, such as impact inspections and revised Pattern of Violations (POV) actions, and the publication of a number of program bulletins to the industry concerning ventilation, the prohibition against advance notice, hazardous condition complaints and the right to request inspections, miners’ rights and the accumulation of combustible materials and rock dust.
MSHA also split Coal District 4 into two districts and upgraded the Mt. Hope Laboratory. In addition, MSHA reorganized the Office of Assessments to better support MSHA’s special enforcement programs, such as impact inspections, POV and scofflaws; investigation programs including miners’ rights and 110 Mine Act investigations; and the enforcement auditing program.