Spring Brings Increased Wyoming Mining, Safety Concerns

By Marjorie Korn | March 23, 2009

The arrival of spring brings increased activity at Wyoming mines and quarries, and with it, a greater risk of workplace accidents, safety officials say.

Seasonal workers becoming reacquainted with their jobs and the use of equipment that hasn’t been run for months both contribute to safety concerns for the state’s coal, metal, nonmetal, sand and gravel producers.

To help ease the transition, the federal Safety and Health Administration held a “Spring Thaw Safety Workshop” in Gillette and at Western Wyoming Community College in Green River, Wyo.

Organizers hope the workshops will help combat a seasonal spike in accidents, a trend most noticeable in the sand and gravel sector. The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association is helping organize the events.

“We, obviously, as an industry, have to take care of ourselves,” said Darcy Taylor, manager of Taylor Quarries in Ranchester. “It’s not the old Wild West that we can get 10 more employees by the end of the week.”

Gary Wolfe, director of the MSHA training center for Gillette College in northeast Wyoming, said the workshop covers topics like the costs of violating government safety rules and the importance of workers’ attitudes. The session also covers the hidden costs of workplace accidents, such as when mines are forced to shut down during an investigation.

There’s a “whole gamut of other costs that are not always obvious when somebody gets hurt,” Wolfe said.

In 2008, Wyoming suffered one coal mining death of the 29 in the United States. It was the first mining fatality in the state since 2005, according to MSHA data.

Taylor gave a presentation on safety attitudes to the approximately 30 attendees in Gillette. He’s attended the workshops for three years. He said the workshops give industry leaders an opportunity to learn both the newest safety protocols and recent MSHA regulation changes.

“It gives us a lot better working relationship with MSHA also, because we understand a lot more where they’re coming from, rather than them showing up at the quarry and them saying, ‘You can’t do that anymore,'” Taylor said.

This year marks the first time Wyoming is holding two workshops to address more specifically surface mining in the north and underground mining in the south, Taylor said. The seminars are held in 17 states and Puerto Rico between February and May.

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