Proposed Rule Standardizes Drug, Alcohol Policies for Mines

By Adrienne Fox Sep 17, 2008
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The federal government is proposing standardized drug and alcohol policies for metal mine operations—such as iron and copper ores—and non-metal mine operations—such as for stone and oil shale—as well as for coal mines.

On Sept. 8, 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) posted a proposed rule on the Federal Register designating substances that cannot be taken onto mine property or used while performing safety-sensitive job duties, except when used according to a valid prescription.

The proposed rule would require coal and “metal and non-metal” (M/NM) mine operators to establish alcohol- and drug-testing for miners who have safety-sensitive jobs, and for their supervisors. It also requires pre-employment testing, random testing, post-accident testing and return-to-work testing.

The regulation also requires coal and M/NM mine operations to implement education programs that feature a written alcohol and drug policy, and employee and supervisory training. Before being assigned to a job that has safety-sensitive duties, each newly hired miner would receive a minimum of 60 minutes of training to inform them of the mine operator’s alcohol- and drug-free mine policy. The training would also include a discussion on the dangers of alcohol and drug use in the mine. New miners would be informed of actions to take when they suspect that others are in violation of the policy and about any available alcohol and drug counseling and employee assistance programs.

“Mining under the best of circumstances can be dangerous, and the use of alcohol and illegal substances creates additional, unnecessary hazards in the workplace,” Acting Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Richard Stickler said in a written statement. “Miners do not operate alone. They have to work together to create a safe environment. If one miner is abusing substances, everyone’s safety is put at risk,” he said.

Miners who violate the prohibitions would be removed from the performance of safety-sensitive job functions until they complete the recommended treatment, and until their alcohol- and drug-free status is confirmed by a return-to-duty test, the proposed rule says.

Before the proposed regulation was announced, Congress requested MSHA to conduct a study on the financial burdens placed on mine operators to establish drug testing and training programs. The Preliminary Regulatory Economic Analysis for Alcohol- and Drug-Free Mines found that the proposed rule would affect approximately 23,054 mine operators (mines and contractors) and 340,460 miners (miners and non-office employees of contractors).

MSHA’s reporting process routinely includes inquiries into the use of alcohol or drugs as contributing factors in mine accidents, the study stated. A preliminary review of fatal and non-fatal mine accident records revealed a number of instances in which alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia were found or reported at the scene, or where the post-accident toxicology screens of those involved in an accident revealed the presence of alcohol or drugs.

In addition, among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 in the construction, trade and excavation occupational group—of which mining is a part of—illicit drug use was reported at 15.1 percent and heavy alcohol use was 17.8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration June 2007 Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs report. The data show that in the mining industry, 13.3 percent of full-time miners were heavy alcohol users and 7.3 percent admitted that they used illicit drugs within a month of being surveyed.

MSHA estimates the total cost for the initial year of the proposed regulation would be approximately $16 million for all coal and M/NM mine operators and mine contractors. MSHA estimates that the annual recurring cost for all mine operators and contractors is $13 million, and to mitigate implementation costs, MSHA developed sample alcohol and drug policy statements and training materials for mine operators.

Comments on the proposed rule are due by midnight EST on Oct. 8, 2008, and all comments must have the identification number “RIN 1219-AB41.” Comments can be filed by various methods including electronically, by the U.S. Postal Service or by hand delivery or courier, or by facsimile.

To file comments electronically, access the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for submitting comments. To submit comment via e-mail, send them to zzMSHA-comments@dol.gov, and include “RIN 1219-AB41” in the subject line of the message.

To submit comments via the U.S. Postal Service, send them to MSHA, Office of Standards, Regulations, and Variances, 1100 Wilson Boulevard, Room 2350, Arlington, Virginia 22209-3939. The address to submit comments by hand delivery or courier is MSHA, Office of Standards, Regulations, and Variances, 1100 Wilson Boulevard, Room 2350, Arlington, Virginia. Sign in at the receptionist’s desk on the 21st floor.

The phone number to submit comments by facsimile is (202) 693-9441.

Adrienne Fox is an Alexandria, Va.-based freelance business writer and former managing editor of HR Magazine.

Related Resource:

Alcohol- and Drug-Free Mines: Policy, Prohibitions, Testing, Training and Assistance, Federal Register Notice

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