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MSHA News Release No. 98-0310
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Tuesday, March 10

Atypical Weather Conditions Compel Mine Operators to Step Up Vigilance

Unusual weather conditions throughout the United States have prompted a call for increased vigilance in the nation's mines. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), unseasonably mild weather and torrential rains brought on by El Nino may have a direct impact on the mining industry.

The early arrival of Spring in some parts of the country may induce stone and sand and gravel operations to accelerate production, particularly at operations normally shut down during the winter months. Furthermore, flooding brought on by heavy rains may require emergency production of aggregates to replace washed-out roads, or to produce paving or construction materials. Last year, many aggregates operations, particularly in the West, experienced an increased demand for their products for building and road repair in the wake of weather-related damage. It was also the worst year for metal and nonmetal mining fatalities since 1987.

"I am urging all mine operators to increase their vigilance for potential safety hazards," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. "While accelerated production can raise employee income and improve economic conditions in the local community, mine operators need to guard against longer hours that may lead to employee fatigue, reduced attention spans, lost-time or disabling injuries, and possibly even accidental death."

MSHA is encouraging mine operators to consider all factors involved in the mining cycle when dealing with weather-related problems. To provide such guidance, the Agency has released a Hazard Alert Bulletin that identifies potential hazards and offers suggestions on how to control them:

-- Severe weather conditions can generate lightning, not only presenting the danger of lightning strikes in open areas of surface mines but also increasing the hazard of unplanned detonation of explosives. Mine operators should track the approach of thunder and lightning storms and should refrain from loading blast holes if a storm is expected to move into the area. If a storm does approach a surface mining operation, the site should be cleared until the danger has passed.

-- Highwalls and stockpiles (material dug and piled for future use) that become saturated with water may become unstable. Freezing and thawing can further destabilize the highwall or stockpile slope, creating a hazard for equipment operators working on top of the pile or persons working near the base.

-- Heavy rains can raise water levels in impoundments, placing additional pressure on these structures. Highwalls, stockpiles and impoundments should be carefully and more frequently inspected to ensure their stability against collapse and the potential development of cracks.

-- Slips and falls historically have been the third leading cause of fatal accidents at mine sites. Rainfall can make floors, mine equipment and roadways extremely slippery and potentially hazardous. Everyone should exercise additional caution as they move around mine sites, both on foot and on equipment.

-- To ensure adequate driving visibility in bad weather, windshield wipers should be kept in good condition.

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