Summer of safety

As we reach the year’s midway point, it is a good time to check in on the industry’s safety progress so far in 2023. In case you have not been following the statistics, I’m sorry to share the news is not as positive as we’d like to see at any point in the year, much less at the halfway point.

As of press time, there have been 21 fatalities at U.S. mines. For comparison, there were 29 total mining deaths in all of 2022. The vast majority of these incidents have been in three categories: powered haulage, machinery and electrical. These same three fatality classifications (as defined by MSHA) are constant highlights in every end-of-year report of the most prevalent causes.

Why is this? And to add to that, how can we reverse these trends? For perspective: this year’s safety performance has been so alarming that MSHA head Chris Williamson recently called for a safety stand-down and urged all mining operations to stop and review safety protocols.

Williamson’s request must be heeded if the industry is to end this year safer than it began. In order for that to happen, every worker must take responsibility for their safe work, but also be on alert for those around them. Optimal safety in mining takes everyone’s involvement.

Another way to raise awareness for safety at the mine site is to learn from others and make the necessary changes to prevent injuries and fatalities. A good starting point is to review MSHA’s recent impact inspection initiative, which targeted 20 mines in 15 states and resulted in a staggering 335 violations.

Since Jan. 1, 2023, MSHA’s inspections identified 914 violations, including 257 significant and substantial (S&S) and 18 unwarrantable failure findings. 

MSHA said that, among the 355 violations found in April, 92 were S&S and five were unwarrantable failure findings. In some of the agency’s highlights, it revealed that mines’ records of violations had been on the rise.

“Impact inspections highlight the need for mine operators to be vigilant at all times and act quickly to prevent accidents and repeat violations,” said Williamson. “MSHA uses impact inspections to protect the nation’s miners from exposure to…serious safety and health hazards.”

There is a definitive way for mines to stay off of the impact inspection radar: a dedication to safety via a site-wide, formal safety program or initiative. If incidents at the site or from other sites can be reviewed and the workforce can learn about prevention through that, therein lies the first step to being safer long-term. (Full reports on every fatality are at MSHA’s website.)

Anonymous reporting, award programs, buy-in incentives, performance bonuses – all are features of safety programs I have seen and researched. Whatever it takes, it’s more than worth it for the peace of mind that workers are safer and able to return home after every shift. After all, the most valuable thing to come out of any mine is the miner. 

Donna Schmidt
Editor, North American Mining magazine
[email protected]
(740) 624-4642
Twitter: @Dschmidt_NAM

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