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MSHA advises use of NDT to prevent mining injuries

A safety alert issued by the Mining Safety and Health Administration suggests the agency will be placing emphasis on testing methods as part of inspections of West Virginia sites. The safety issue concerned testing specifically performed on wire rope. MSHA called for use of both nondestructive testing (NDT) and visual checks after inspections that returned different results than earlier ones that did not utilize nondestructive testing methods. The safety warning provided guidance on best practices for use of NDT and visual inspection on wire and hoisting rope.

Wire ropes are used extensively in mining transportation and emergency safety systems. A failure of hoisting ropes could easily result in anything from one miner's injuries to multiple fatalities. For these reasons, the safety warning included a six-month minimum time between testing wire rope. Nondestructive tests were mentioned to spot sections of wire rope experiencing distortion, loss of metallic area, corrosion and more general wear and tear issues.

The NDT may use either ultrasound or magnetic waves to identify irregularities in the internal portion of objects, including metal ropes. When minor weaknesses are located, the safety warning advises more frequent, visual inspection of metal ropes at 50 feet per minute or less. The agency considers this necessary to reduce risk of mining injuries to acceptable levels.

A failure to observe MSHA protocol on equipment maintenance could result at the least in fines for the operator. However, any economic cost of increased testing to meet safety standards is more than offset by a reduction in the risk of mining injuries and fatalities. In the case of hoisting ropes, lack of maintenance could mean failure of a critical evacuation system when it is needed most. When a person has been killed in a mining accident, the surviving family members may want to meet with an attorney to see what recourse they might have.

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