The safety and health of workers in the heavy-duty mining industry is something that I and the team at Flexco take very seriously, as does the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
For more than 20 years, we have anticipated a huge change in direction with MSHA’s respirable silica dust standards. Based on what I have heard lately, it seems this year will be the one in which they make big strides.
To get a better idea of what you can expect to see from MSHA in 2024 and beyond, check out some of the most recent key information below.
What is MSHA?
MSHA is an organization that has a massive impact on heavy-duty mining facilities in the United States. As part of the U.S. Department of Labor, they aim to create and enforce rules across the mining industry that better ensures the health and safety of plant processes and their workers.
Since 1977, MSHA has had a drastic impact on safety related incidents at mining facilities, specifically limiting the number of fatal accidents that have occurred. Their continuous efforts to increase safety and health are often carried out through stringent inspections, regulations, and procedures that directly impact mining facilities.
Why is Silica Dust Containment Important?
A big trend for MSHA in recent years has been their focus on limiting dust on job sites. The amount of dust, specifically respirable silica dust, will continue to be monitored in the coming years, and those that are not in compliance will be forced to take real measures to limit dust exposure at their plant.
Due to the nature of the material that is conveyed at heavy-duty mining facilities, there is bound to be dust present. Unfortunately, the exposure to dust presents some real health risks. Over time, continuous silica dust exposure can lead to health concerns like silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease, pulmonary disease, and more.
With these concerns in mind, MSHA develops standards that limit the amount of dust workers can be exposed to, helping them stay healthy in the long-term. This year, we are expecting further measures to react to growing dust concerns.
The Most Recent Proposals for MSHA in 2024
There are a few proposals in MSHA’s regulations in 2024 that will influence heavy-duty mining facilities and their conveyor belt processes. Below, I will list the amendments that could take effect next year that will impact your business. Please note that these amendments have not yet taken effect, are not official, and are subject to change.
PEL and AL Amendments
One of the major points of contention for MSHA in the coming year is projecting to be implementing guidelines to limit the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) and Action Level (AL) of mining facilities. Here are two amendments that will impact mining facilities.
§ 60.10 – The PEL may drop from 100 micrograms to 50 micrograms; full-shift exposure, 8-hour TWA (time weighted average).
§ 60.2 – The Action Level may be set at 25 micrograms.
Methods of Compliance Amendments
§ 60.11 – Plants may be required to install, use, and maintain feasible engineering and administrative controls. These controls can include ventilation systems, dust suppression devices, and enclosed cabs or control booths with filtered air. Additionally, this can include changes in material handling, equipment used in a process, ventilation, and dust capture.
Exposure Monitoring Amendments
To ensure that mining facilities are properly containing dust, some form of exposure monitoring will need to be performed. The following amendments explain the requirements of baseline sampling, and what happens if collected samples do not meet them.
§ 60.12 (a) – Baseline sampling will be required for each miner who is or reasonably may be expected to be exposed to RCS at any level. If the baseline sample is between 25-50 ug, periodic sampling will be triggered.
§ 60.12 (b) – Periodic sampling will be required when sampling results are between 25-50 ug. Sampling will be done every three months until two samples in a row come back below an AL of 25.
§ 60.12 (c) – If corrective action sampling comes back with more than 50 ug, corrective action and monitoring will need to be carried out.
60.12 (d) – Semi-annually, operators must “qualitatively evaluate any changes in production, processes, engineering controls, personnel, administrative controls, or other factors including geological characteristics that might result in new or increased respirable crystalline silica exposures.”
Corrective Actions Amendments
If detrimental amounts of dust are present, mining plants are susceptible to taking real action to stop it. The following amendment explains how facilities will have to respond if corrective action is needed.
§ 60.13 (a)(3) - If a sample shows greater than 50 ug, plants must take immediate corrective actions. These include increasing ventilation, adding more water sprays, and improving maintenance or existing engineering controls.
How to Prepare for Updated MSHA Requirements
So, what does this all mean? In short, mining facilities are going to have to start taking dust more seriously. If they are found out of compliance either by internal sampling or by MSHA, they will have to take immediate corrective action, or potentially face some significant fines.
I would like to reiterate again that the aforementioned amendments are only proposed and have not been finalized. We would anticipate that these amendments are near to what they will eventually be finalized to, but that cannot be said with 100% certainty.
If you or a member of your team have any questions on how to best prepare for updates to MSHA requirements, reach out to a member of the Flexco product support team, or have me or a team member out for a site walkthrough to help diagnose key areas throughout your facility that might need attention.
Furthermore, be sure to subscribe to the Flexco blog to hear the latest MSHA updates as they happen throughout the year.
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Authored by: Brian David, Industry Manager
In the role of Industry Manager, David develops and maintains subject matter expertise related to key heavy-duty growth industries, applying that expertise to market development and marketing communications programs, including the development tools that highlight product, services, and delivered customer value. David has been with Flexco since 2018, beginning his time as a Territory Sales Manager before becoming Industry Manager in 2021. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech and a Master of Business Administration from Emory University.