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Uncontrolled Energy Sources Targeted in New MSHA Initiative

  • February 1, 2016

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has launched an enforcement and educational outreach initiative to call attention to the danger of working around uncontrolled energy sources, a risk the agency said that has claimed the lives of 28 miners in the Metal/Non-Metal (M/NM) sector since 2005.

In a joint effort with the National Lime Association, MSHA has released lockout-tagout-tryout (LOTO) procedures in a one-page alert, “Lock-Tag-Try.” It lists applicable MSHA standards and outlines 11 best practices. The alert also includes a link to fatalgrams on each of the 28 fatalities. In an accompanying memorandum to M/NM operators, Administrator Neal Merrifield noted that 10 miners died when they contacted electrical power or were burned in arc flashes, and four more died when unblocked equipment moved, fell or shifted, or other uncontrolled stored energy was released while they were working. Fatalities included eight supervisors and seven contractors, he said.

Merrifield described an effective LOTO program as one which includes disconnecting power, locking the switch, and attaching an identifying tag. Another critical element before beginning work, Merrifield said, is verifying that the correct equipment has been effectively locked out by trying to start or operate mechanical equipment to assure it is off and blocked against hazardous motion and for electricians to test power circuits to assure they are de-energized. “A good rule of thumb is: It’s not locked out until you’ve tried it out!” he advised.

Merrifield reminded mine operators that MSHA standards require that, before work is done on electrical circuits, power must be disconnected, switches locked out, and warning notices posted and signed by those performing the work. In addition, power to machinery or equipment must be off and the machinery or equipment blocked against hazardous motion before beginning repairs or maintenance. If, after locking out drive motor electrical circuits, other hazards or sources of energy exist, they, too, must be identified and controlled to prevent unplanned release. These sources include hydraulic, pneumatic, or spring pressure, parts or objects that could fall or pivot, and hot fluids or chemicals that could be released into the workspace, the Administrator said.

Electrical standards affected by the lockout/tagout alert are 30 CFR §§ 56/57.12006, §§ 56/57.12016, and §§ 56/57.12017. The mechanical lockout standards are 30 CFR §§ 56/57.14105. MSHA’s “Rules to Live By” standards enforcement initiative, which prompts inspectors to issue citations associated with heavy fines for alleged violations, include §§ 56/57.14105 and §§ 56/57.12017.

The initiative will be conducted over the coming months through heightened enforcement and education and outreach, including walk-and-talks. Agency personnel will come from MSHA’s inspectorate and its Educational Field and Small Mines Services unit. Merrifield called on operators to help spread the safety message to all miners and contract personnel.

Separately, in a statement January 20, MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main expressed concern over the death of three coal miners so far in 2016, and said his agency would be devoting increased enforcement, education and outreach efforts to prevent more coal fatalities.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer inquiries regarding these and other workplace developments.

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