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From the Assistant Secretary's Desk
      - Improving Mine Operator Examination Compliance at Underground Coal Mines - July 1, 2013

Joseph A. Main - Assistant Secretary of Labor  for Mine Safety and Health
Last August, MSHAs final rule on Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines for Violations of Mandatory Health or Safety Standards became effective. This rule was implemented to better protect miners from injury illness and death. After almost a year, this is a good time for a reminder of the importance of the rule and its intent as we look to improve compliance and implementation of the rule.

Today, coal inspectors are starting an educational outreach program where they will be talking to operators and examiners about the intent and requirements of the rule, and ensuring that examiners are hearing about violations MSHA is citing at the mine as required by the rule.

The rule requires mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions, including violations of nine health and safety standards that pose the greatest risk to miners.

In addition to other hazards and conditions, the new rule specifically identified nine standards that address ventilation, methane, roof control, combustible materials, rock dust, equipment guarding and other safeguards that examiners are to check for during examinations. Repeated violations of these standards present some of the most unsafe conditions for underground coal miners. The nine standards are consistent with the standards emphasized in MSHA's Rules to Live By initiative and the types of violations cited in MSHA's accident investigation report on the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion as contributing to the cause of that deadly accident. MSHA launched Rules to Live By, an outreach and enforcement program designed to strengthen efforts to prevent mining fatalities, in February 2010.

An important provision of this rule requires operators to review with mine examiners, on a quarterly basis, all the violations cited by MSHA in areas where pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations are required. These reviews will help educate the operator and the examiners in identifying hazards and violations.

Effective pre-shift, supplemental, on-shift and weekly examinations are the first line of defense to protect miners working in underground coal mines, and we can remove many of the conditions that can injure or kill miners by identifying and correcting those conditions earlier. Improved examinations will better protect our nations miners from injury and death.