by brian hendrix

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently announced its “Take Time Save Lives” campaign to “reach miners, promote best practice resources, and ensure mine operators have the tools they need to fully train miners to use equipment.” This new campaign is MSHA’s response to an “unacceptable trend” in “mining incidents, many of which could have been prevented with proper training and attention to tasks.” 

In 2021, 37 miners were fatally injured at work, eight more than in 2020. To be clear, that’s 37 miners too many. We are all aiming for zero. What about the rates? The fatality rate in the mining industry last year was 0.0147. That’s 0.003 higher than the 0.0117 rate posted for 2020. It’s also 0.005 higher than the 10-year average.

How about injuries? In 2020, the all injury rate for the mining industry was 1.84. That was a record, an all-time low. Unfortunately, the rate ticked up 0.04 in 2021 to 1.89. That’s still the second lowest rate ever, and it’s well below the 10-year average of 2.2.

If the data were a graph, it would show a line angling upward slightly. That’s not what MSHA or any of us want. However, the data doesn’t reveal the reasons for the change in the trajectory. Why were the fatality and all injury rates higher in 2021 than in 2020?

It seems MSHA has settled on “training and attention to tasks” as one answer to that question, particularly for powered haulage, roof and rib falls, fire suppression and prevention and lockout/tag out. In other words, MSHA wants the industry to focus on better and/or more task training.

Does that make sense? Is more effective task training the way to reduce the trend we’re concerned about? Of the 10 fatal incidents that have occurred this year, we know the fatally injured miners were all experienced. They ranged from about two years of mining experience to 20 years, with an average of 10 years in mining. The tasks these miners were performing when they were fatally injured don’t appear to have been new, including:

A continuous miner operator was fatally injured when he was pinned between the machine and the coal rib.  

A blaster died when a large tree fell from a highwall, striking the cab of the pickup truck he was driving along a mine road.

A miner was replacing a belt conveyor roller inside a prep plant and was fatally injured when he fell 27 feet to a concrete floor.

A miner was working under a dump truck to address a parking brake issue and was killed when the truck rolled on to or over him.  

While tramming a single-boom face drill to the surface, a miner was pinned between the drill and the coal rib. 

A miner was fatally injured when loose material from a brow along the mine rib fell and struck him.  

A miner was fatally injured when the bulldozer he was operating rolled down a steep slope.

No doubt, MSHA will allege that a lack of task training caused or contributed to one or more of these accidents. From the preliminary reports, it’s unclear as to whether or how more or better task training could or would have prevented any of these tragic accidents.

MSHA is focusing on task training, so let’s look quickly at what’s required and what you can do to comply. Part 48 requires mine operators to provide miners with training on the safety health aspects of their assigned tasks, including new tasks.

A “task” is a “work assignment that includes duties of a job that occur on a regular basis and which requires physical abilities and job knowledge.” That’s important to know because your Part 48 training plan must include a: 

(i) A complete list of task assignments to correspond with the definition of “task” in 48.22(f) of this subpart B. 

(ii) The titles of personnel conducting the training for this section. 

(iii) The outline of training procedures used in training miners in those work assignments listed according to paragraph (c)(8)(i) of this section. 

(iv) The evaluation procedures used to determine the effectiveness of training under 48.27 of this subpart B.

To prepare for or respond to MSHA’s new campaign, it makes sense to audit your compliance with Part 48’s task training requirements. The list of tasks in your MSHA-approved Part 48 plan is a good place to start the audit. Is it comprehensive? Up-to-date? Do you have new or “new-ish” equipment on-site — powered haulage or other mobile equipment? If so, have all the miners who operate that equipment received training on it? Who provided that training? How? Was it effective? A good audit will answer these and many other questions and leave you well prepared for MSHA’s new focus on task training.

Brian Hendrix is a partner at Husch Blackwell. He can be reached at