Preventable conveyor accidents are all too common in mining, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration is digging deeper into the cause. A recent MSHA report shows a string of fatalities involving belt conveyors. The federal agency says the report should serve as a reminder to improve conveyor safety awareness and to step up training.
There were 24 mining fatalities in 2019, according to MSHA. This is the fewest recorded in a year, which MSHA credits to its rulemaking and educational efforts. However, the agency says it will step up efforts to help prevent even more accidents through a targeted compliance assistance effort. This comes on the heels of several conveyor accidents that MSHA said could have been prevented through proper lockout/tagout and using other safety procedures before working. Six recent fatalities involved miners working near a moving conveyor, and two occurred during maintenance on an idle conveyor.
“The low number of mining deaths last year demonstrates that mine operators have become more proactive in eliminating safety hazards. But I believe we can do even better,” said MSHA assistant secretary David Zatezalo. “A disproportionate number of mining deaths involved contractors.”
While mining is much safer than it was even 10 years ago, there are still many hazards that mining personnel face daily. Zatezalo said MSHA plans to visit thousands of mines to educate miners, operators, and contractors on safety best practices. Here are several safety best practices for working near belt conveyors:
- Lockout/tagout: One of the first steps in lockout/tagout is to de-energize machinery and lock and tag the disconnect before working. Make sure the lockout tools are specific for the machine and that the person who installed the lock and tag is the only one who can remove them after work is complete.
- Maintenance: Follow best practices to block against motion by identifying, isolating, and controlling energy. Block the belt conveyor to prevent movement and relieve the belt tension. Avoid pinch points and keep a safe distance.
- Identification: Be sure to mark control panels and label switches. Make equipment and procedures visible. Identification improves safety and is part of sustaining a lean mining program.
- PPE: While personal protective equipment is the last line of defense, make sure it is rated appropriately for the work being performed. Store it neatly and make it easily accessible to workers.
- Training: Workers who have consistent safety meetings and up-to-date training avoid complacency. Workplaces can use a variety of materials, such as videos, informative articles, infographics, and guides.
Part of making lasting safety improvements in mining is by having a solid written safety program that is followed from the top down. Make sure all mining site workers review procedures and understand expectations, especially when adding or removing conveyor belts. Communication is crucial to a safe working environment. Never underestimate the power of signs, labels, and floor marking. Use signs to direct or instruct miners around equipment. Outline safe work boundaries, control panel distancing, and more with floor marking. Actively improving on mining safety protects the workplace bottom line as well as workers.
Review mine safety best practices, MSHA regulations, and how to build an effective Injury & Illness Prevention Program with our free Mine Safety guide.