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MSHA issues safety warning on belt conveyors

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has issued a safety alert for miners working near belt conveyors after recording eight conveyor-related fatalities at U.S. mines since Jan. 26, 2017.

Of those deaths, six involved working near moving conveyors, and two happened during maintenance of an idle conveyor. In one of the most recent, which occurred Dec. 23, 2019, a miner on a belt move crew was fatally injured while removing a splice pin from a 72-in. mainline conveyor.

“A belt gripper and a ratchet-style come-along failed, releasing stored energy in a tightly stretched portion of the belt, causing the belting to suddenly become taut and shift upward, pinning the miner between the belt and frame of the belt tailpiece,” the agency said in its review of the incident, which is still being investigated.

All of the reported fatalities, according to MSHA, could have been prevented with the use of proper lock-out/tag-out procedures, as well as blocking against motion before working.

Following an evaluation of the fatalities, MSHA made recommendations for best practices for belt conveyor maintenance. They include blocking from motion, locking and tagging, and enforcing training and communication.

The training and communication recommendations MSHA stressed included ensuring miners are trained on safe work procedures; developing step-by-step procedures and then reviewing them with all miners before non-routine maintenance tasks are performed, such as adding or removing conveyor belt.

Additionally, investigators have urged mines to ensure they are communicating effectively with one another: “After maintenance has been completed and before removing your lock and tag, ensure everyone is clear of the belt conveyor and communicate to others that you will be restarting the belt.”