Right now, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is focusing on powered haulage safety. It is fair to say that powered haulage safety is one of — if not the — highest priority for MSHA. On July 20, MSHA held a national “Stand Down for Safety Day.” MSHA enforcement staff visited mines “to emphasize the need for adhering to best safety practices for powered haulage, vehicle rollovers, and miner training to reduce fatalities and injuries.” It’s not difficult to see why: nine of the 17 fatalities this year and 185 injuries have been associated with powered haulage. 

This isn’t a new development. MSHA identified powered haulage safety as a priority back in 2017. In 2018, MSHA launched its Powered Haulage Safety Initiative, noting that “[a]bout half of all U.S. mining fatalities in recent years — including 13 of the 27 fatalities in 2018 — were due to accidents involving powered haulage.” MSHA has since devoted considerable resources to enforcement, education, training and outreach on powered haulage safety.

MSHA also invited mine operators, miners, equipment manufacturers and other stakeholders to submit “data and information on technologies such as collision warning, proximity detection systems, seat belt starter interlock systems, and other technologies that can reduce accidents involving power haulage equipment.” Stakeholders responded to this request with an impressive and very diverse array of ideas, suggestions, best practices and other information. MSHA culled what it considered the best of the information it received and shared it broadly. MSHA also used some of this data and information to draft a new, proposed rule that MSHA will likely publish soon.

Thus, mine operators should be paying close attention to powered haulage safety. MSHA’s lists of “Powered Haulage Practices” are a good place to start. Also, it is important to keep in mind that MSHA classifies “mobile equipment, conveyor systems, and anything else under power that hauls people or materials” as “powered haulage.” In other words, “powered haulage” includes many different types of equipment. With that, here are the Powered Haulage Best Practices identified by MSHA.

Powered Haulage Best Practices – Surface

Always dump material in a safe location.

Always construct substantial berms as a visual indicator to prevent over travel.

Establish safe traffic patterns with proper signage.

Chock the wheels or turn them into a bank when parking mobile equipment on a grade   

Powered Haulage Best Practices – Underground

Stop and sound an audible warning device before tramming equipment through ventilation curtains.

Look in the direction of travel and stay in the operator’s compartment while operating mobile equipment.

Install reflective signs or warning lights in low clearance areas.

Powered Haulage Best Practices – Conveyors

Design, install and maintain guards.

Lock out–Tag out: Lock and tag conveyors before performing work.

For the most part, practices identified by MSHA are common and widely accepted.

MSHA will soon publish a new rule on powered haulage, and that’s where the rubber will really hit the road. MSHA has indicated the proposed rule will require mine operators to develop mine specific plans for powered haulage safety. No one will know what’s in the proposed rule until it is published by MSHA. If the rule forces the adoption of certain technology, it will not be well received. Ideally, the agency should propose a rule that encourages and incentivizes the adoption of such new devices and technology.

If MSHA proposes a rule that requires mine operators to develop mine specific plans for powered haulage safety and to implement those plans through training and enforcement, it should receive broad support. Hopefully, the agency will propose a rule that embraces modern risk assessment and risk management systems.

Risk assessment and risk management systems work. They are critical, integral elements of any truly effective safety and health program. Static, reactive approaches to safety and health have limits.

For its part, MSHA’s focus has always been on enforcing compliance and it has not taken a risk management approach.

This summer, MSHA will publish its proposed powered haulage safety rule. Coal operators may not want to wait to develop and implement a mine-specific plan for powered haulage safety.

Brian Hendrix is a partner with
Husch Blackwell. He can be reached at brian.hendrix@huschblackwell.com