There have already been four metal/nonmetal mine fatalities this year in the United States. Two of these (50%) were contractor fatalities, leading MSHA to release a safety alert that provides best practices to ensure the safety of contract miners. Hopefully there are lessons that can be learned from these tragedies that will help the industry improve its record on contractor safety and prevent future incidents in the coming year.
Contractor Fatalities and Safety Concerns
On January 8, 2015, a sales manager with 11 years of experience was killed at a sand and gravel mine when he was installing new screen panels on a screen deck; the feeder box pivoted and he was pinned between the box and the rear support beam of the screen deck. Just three days later, on January 11, 2015, a contract shaft miner with 35 years of experience was killed at an underground gold mine; he was riding on top of a skip travelling up the ventilation shaft when he struck a steel cross member on a beam.
These tragic incidents and other fatalities in the industry illustrate that accidents can happen to anyone, at any time. And yet contractors are particularly vulnerable for a number of reasons. These workers, while they may be experienced, may not have the relevant training or experience in that particular work area. They may not be as familiar with the environment and the hazards present.
Contractor Safety Best Practices
MSHA’s safety alert lists some best practices that should be followed to protect contract worker safety, including:
- Monitor all personnel to ensure safe work procedures are followed.
- Establish and discuss safe work procedures. Identify and control all hazards associated with the work to be performed.
- Prior to working, inspect your work area for hazards.
- Conduct pre-operational checks to identify any defects that may affect the safe operation of equipment.
- Properly use PPE to protect against hazards associated within mining.
In a Jan. 30 letter, MSHA announced to stakeholders that it would be increasing efforts to prevent fatalities at metal and non-metal mines. In the past 16 months, there have been 37 deaths at Metal and Nonmetal mines; 10 of these deaths (more than 1 in 4) were contractors.
MSHA says its efforts will include education, outreach and enforcement, and searching for support throughout the industry. The letter places emphasis on daily and effective workplace exams to find and fix hazards as well as training. Task training for miners and supervisors performing work is singled out, again highlighting the fact that a worker can be experienced but not experienced in a particular task under a particular set of circumstances – this can often be the situation when it comes to contractors.
Temporary worker safety across all industries continues to be a priority for OSHA as well. Temporary workers are 3-4 times more likely to be injured or killed on the job, and as the temporary workforce continues to increase this is a problem that remains high on the radar.