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MSHA News Release No. 99-0511
CONTACT: Katharine Snyder
PHONE: (703) 235-1452

Released Tuesday, May 11, 1999

MSHA Reaches Out to Smallest Mines in Metal and Nonmetal Sector

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspectors are visiting 5,000 of the nation's smallest metal and nonmetal mines from May 10 to May 28 to alert mine operators and miners to hazards that contribute to these mines' high rate of fatal accidents.

"Last year, almost one-third of metal and nonmetal mining deaths occurred at small mines with five or fewer employees," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Yet mines this size accounted for only about 10 percent of the hours worked in metal and nonmetal mining. Clearly these miners face an elevated risk. We need to let the mine operators and miners know these facts and the steps they can take to reduce the risk."

MSHA's metal and nonmetal mine inspectors will visit mines with five or fewer employees, combining their inspections with safety talks and distributing safety materials. State mine inspectors, MSHA training specialists and technical support personnel also will makes mine visits as part of the program.

Most metal and nonmetal mines with five or fewer employees are sand and gravel operations, but small mines exist in all the major sectors of the industry.

"On visits to small stone quarries and sand and gravel operations, we'll also provide information about our recently proposed safety training rules for these industries," McAteer said. "Our inspectors will hand out pre-addressed envelopes so the mine operators and miners can comment on the proposal."

Lack of training has been identified as a leading contributor to deaths at small mines. MSHA on April 14 proposed training requirements for miners at sand and gravel operations, rock quarries and certain other surface nonmetal mines, work sites at which MSHA has been unable to enforce training requirements due to a two-decade old Congressional appropriations rider.

Safety talks at the small metal and nonmetal mines will emphasize the most common hazards and violations. Among these:

-- The most common violation cited by MSHA in fatality investigations during recent years has been failure to use safety belts and lines when working in an elevated location. Second most common: failure to provide safe access to the workplace.

--Five deaths at small mines last year involved belt conveyors and related equipment. Such accidents have claimed the lives of 12 plant operators, six laborers, four mechanics and two supervisors since 1990.

----Several deaths at small mines last year could have been prevented by proper lockout and tagout of electrical equipment and by blocking machinery against motion during maintenance and repair.

Independent contractors, including contract haulers, are a high-risk group. To protect these drivers, MSHA recommends that mine operators keep stockpiles trimmed, enforce safe work procedures, and make sure customer truck drivers stay in their trucks at all times.

MSHA advises that operators of small mines can improve safety by doing a safety walk of the work areas daily, getting all employees to look for hazards, giving safety training, and enforcing safe work procedures. Mine operators and miners can find safety and health information on the World Wide Web at .