Hard rock mines will be under heightened scrutiny from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in several areas, according to the National Mining Association. During a recent stakeholder briefing hosted by the agency’s Metal/Nonmetal Division, Division Administrator Neal Merrifield said the agency will soon issue a Program Policy Letter (PPL) addressing safety belts and lines, specifically calling for tighter enforcement of the current fall protection standard. Merrifield said MSHA will require fall protection at heights exceeding 6 feet, without exception, and direct inspectors to examine the need for protection below that level where they believe a potential hazard may exist.

The PPL, based on current Occupational Safety and Health Administration practices, is necessary, he said, to remedy inconsistent enforcement of the current fall protection standard (56/57), which does not specify a height above which fall protection must be provided. Disposition of unresolved citations now pending will be discussed with the agency’s solicitor’s office in light of the PPL, he said.

In addition, the agency has launched comprehensive noise inspections at all metal/nonmetal mines based on its concerns that historic samplings of specific equipment and jobs, among others, indicate over-exposures have occurred. The noise inspections are not intended to be an enforcement action, said MSHA, but to draw operators’ attention to steps necessary to protect hearing. Nevertheless, NMA notes the agency is obligated to issue citations where it believes operators have failed to comply with requirements.