Winter Weather Brings Mine Safety Hazards - and Inspections

December 1, 2016 Dave Anderson

Mine safety signs and labels
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued its annual Winter Alert message, reminding mine operators and miners to pay special attention to seasonal changes that may affect both surface and underground work environments. A number of major U.S. mine disasters have occurred during the winter months, according to MSHA's posted data.

Inspection and Information Campaign Underway


The agency has initiated a campaign – which runs through March 2017 – to emphasize increased vigilance and adherence to safety principles during the colder months. 

Federal inspectors issued 130 citations and one safeguard during special impact inspections conducted at 10 coal mines and five metal and nonmetal mines in October 2016.

This year’s campaign theme, “Make Safety A Hole In One,” focuses on the prevention of coal mine explosions, stressing mine examinations, proper ventilation and rock dusting. It also addresses hazards specific to surface facilities and preparation plants.

 
Throughout the campaign, mine safety and health specialists will regularly visit mines around the country to heighten awareness to the changing conditions that take place during the winter months. Enforcement personnel will distribute materials that focus on “best practices” for performing miners’ jobs.

Cold Weather Increases Mine Risks


“The risk of underground coal mine explosions increases every winter, as do hazards associated with ice and snow that collect at surface facilities and preparation plants,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “While mine safety has improved vastly over time, these types of explosions have occurred far too often. We must remain vigilant about the conditions that can set them off.”

When cold weather causes barometric pressure to drop, methane gas can migrate more easily into the mine atmosphere, increasing the risk of an explosion. Dry winter air means drier conditions underground, making it more likely for coal dust to suspend in the mine’s atmosphere and create the potential for an explosion. Limited visibility, slippery walkways, and freezing and thawing highwalls also contribute to possible mishaps during the winter months.

Good News from MSHA


Their Data at a Glance shows an all-time low in the number of deaths caused by mine-related injuries for Fiscal Year 2016, and that fatality and injury rates for this period represent the lowest rates ever recorded. It also shows that Calendar Year 2015 was the safest in U.S. mining history.


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