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Targeting a Deadly Month in Mining

Posted on: April 1, 2016

By Joseph Main, MSHA Assistant Secretary

Harold Steege was a 58-year-old truck driver at a small sand and gravel operation in northeast Kansas, where material is excavated from the bottom of a nearby creek bed, screened and processed, and then sold as construction aggregate. On April 17, 2014, Harold parked his truck at the pit so that an excavator could load it with material for transport to the plant three miles away. Instead of waiting inside the cab, Mr. Steege got out of the truck and was fatally struck by the excavator. An investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that the mine operator failed to train truck drivers like Harold and excavator operators on safe loading procedures.

Historically, April has been a particularly deadly month in mining. Since 2000, 50 miners in the metal and nonmetal mining industry have died in workplace accidents in a month that signals the beginning of the spring season and the startup of many mines idled during the winter months.

Often, mines resume operations with newly hired or newly assigned employees. Some workers may be entirely new to mining, and others may be given unfamiliar tasks.

Earlier this week, while addressing the 34th Annual South Central Joint Mine Health & Safety Conference in Grapevine, Texas, I announced MSHA’s plans to curb mining deaths in April through a new safety alert initiative aimed directly at the metal and nonmetal mining industry: “Think, Plan, Train … Before You Begin Work!”

Mine operators will be reminded to establish safe work procedures, follow manufacturers’ recommendations, discuss all hazards and correct them before starting work, conduct task training and keep training practices up to date.

The April safety initiative is part of MSHA’s overall fatality reduction plan, which includes targeted safety alerts that mine inspectors share with miners, training representatives, mine operators and industry stakeholders.

In August 2015, MSHA launched aggressive enforcement and outreach actions in response to the events of Aug. 3, 2015 – a particularly deadly day in mining – when three miners died in separate accidents at mines in Nevada, North Dakota and Virginia. With the staunch support of the mining industry, the campaign reduced fatalities to an all-time low of three in the seven months that followed.

These kinds of actions demonstrate that mining deaths can be prevented. Our “Think, Plan, Train … Before You Begin Work!” alert will help make sure we all stay laser focused on preventing the deadly consequences that April has historically brought.

Access the original blog post on the Department of Labor blog here.