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MSHA Focus on Air Quality in Mines

Tuesday, October 8, 2013
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As part of its mission to increase miner safety, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has put an increased focus on exposure monitoring in surface and underground metal and nonmetal mines to ensure better worker protection from overexposure to harmful airborne contaminants. Agency efforts include stakeholder outreach, education and training and enhanced implementation of existing standards.

More than 30 years ago, an act of Congress gave MSHA the power to shut down mines that show a pattern of violations – a power that has yet to be used. As part of their plan to force mines to patrol themselves, MSHA has recently stated that they will begin taking action to shut down mines that are repeatedly cited with safety violations. This means that multiple citations will not only cost large amounts of money, but they also mean that a mine could be shut down, regardless if safety improvements were made in the wake of the citations.

Why? MSHA has stated that mine operators are responsible for protecting the health of miners and must demonstrate compliance with safety standards rather than rely on enforcement interventions. This means that MSHA will be taking a more proactive approach to protecting miners. In the past, direct MSHA enforcement has been the primary cause of changes to hazardous conditions in mines. Mine owners were fined and, to avoid more fines, they fixed the problems. However, this does not fully protect miners, as those mine operators who do not receive direct order from MSHA may not remedy all the safety hazards faced by their workers. Instead of waiting for complaints, inspectors will come at regular intervals to ensure that mine exposure monitoring standards are up to regulation.

Monitoring Air Quality MSHA enforcement of exposure monitoring is based on 30 Code of Federal Regulations 56/57.5002: While most mines already have some form of air quality monitoring in place, many are less than comprehensive and are conducted too infrequently.

To both avoid fines and protect the overall health of your employees, it is important to begin implementing air quality assurance measures before MSHA shows up on your doorstep.

  • Air sampling should be conducted throughout you facilities, not just in a few locations.
  • A variety of sampling methods should be used to provide more comprehensive results.
  • Sampling should be conducted at standard times throughout the work day and also when chances in work procedures could affect air quality.
  • The employees responsible for conducting tests need to be properly trained and know what to do when they discover irregularities.

The current MSHA focus may be on air quality, but other mine safety issues will no doubt receive similar attention in the future. Evaluating the overall safety of your facilities will not only provide a better environment for your workers, but it will also keep you prepared for an MSHA inspection.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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