MSHA unveils COVID guidance for mines
Lays out recommendation to prevent the spread of coronavirus North of 60 Mining News – March 12, 2021
Last updated 4/1/2021 at 4:08pm
The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration has published new and much stronger COVID-19 guidance aimed at assisting mine operators to implement more effective coronavirus protection programs and better identify risks that could lead to exposure.
"The pandemic has cost too many Americans their lives or their well-being. Together, employers and workers have vital roles in making their workplaces as safe as possible to counter this terrible disease," said Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor Patricia Smith. "Mine operations face unique challenges, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration's updated guidance includes recommendations to help mining communities fight the virus, and eventually end its devastating health and economic consequences."
The Biden administration has not yet filled the Secretary of Labor position, which is being covered in the interim by Al Stewart, a deputy assistant secretary within the department.
The new mining guideline, "Protecting Miners: MSHA Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19," details key measures for limiting the spread of coronavirus, including ensuring infected or potentially infected miners are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols, and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings.
MSHA says implementing a coronavirus protection program is the most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The guidance announced on March 10 recommends several essential elements in a prevention program:
• Conduct a hazard assessment.
• Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
• Adopt policies for absent miners that do not punish them as a way to encourage potentially infected miners to remain home.
• Ensure communication of coronavirus policies and procedures to English- and non-English-speaking workers.
• Implement protections from retaliation for miners who raise coronavirus-related concerns.
"The mining industry depends on the safety of mine operations and the safety and well-being of its mineworkers," said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Jeannette Galanis. "This updated guidance provides U.S. mine operators with important recommendations for protecting miners from coronavirus and reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus."
The 11-page executive summary of this guidance also includes direction on the use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene, and routine cleaning.
MSHA says this COVID-19 guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations.
"The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content and intended to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace," the health administration penned in a statement.
MSHA, however, said certain miners with higher risk for severe illness may be legally entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act to personal protection equipment that exceeds the mine safety administration's normal standards.
The executive summary of MSHA's COVID-19 guidance for mining can be read at https://www.msha.gov/protecting-miners.
MSHA says it will be updating this guidance as developments in science, best practices and standards warrant.