Preparing for rockfall danger: Beyond helmet requirements

Mine walls, grounds and roofs pose serious dangers to workers because they’re unpredictable. Moisture sensitivity in coal mine roofs can cause minor and serious rockfalls, which injure between 400 and 500 people every year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The organization also estimates that 40 percent of all underground fatalities between 1999 and 2008 were caused by roof, rib and face falls. Preparing for mine work will protect workers and may ultimately reduce Arizona workers’ compensation costs for employers.

While head protection is crucial during mine work, businesses can reduce the risk of rockfall by modifying the mine environment. Mine inspection is legally mandated, and NIOSH highly recommends roof screening to reduce the risk of rockfall.

In a 2010 study, the organization found that workers’ compensation premiums were significantly reduced when businesses invested in professional roof screenings. NIOSH compared data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, workers’ compensation organizations and insurance companies for mines that accommodated 67 employees and ones that accommodated 150. The initial cost of the procedure is estimated at $240,000, according to NIOSH, and many employers are reluctant to pay the initial cost. However, the study found that after the roof screening, each 67-person mine saved between $41,000 to $326,000, and a 150-person mine saved between $96,000 to $843,000, each over a three-year period.

Employers also may want to consider establishing clear guidelines for gear condition. This could constitute an inspection policy that requires workers to thoroughly check equipment and personal protective equipment every day. Broken helmets, lighting and tools should be repaired if possible or disposed of immediately. Another important measure business owners can take is monitoring employees to make sure they’re wearing helmets at all times. Because some hats can get hot and uncomfortable, employers can invest in mining helmets with slits for air flow.

By law, employees and anyone regularly exposed to mine hazards must be trained in mine safety. The Arizona State Mine Inspector (ASMI) is great source for training.

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