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A Change is Needed for Metal/Non-Metal Mining in the U.S.

July 9, 2014

A quick look at MSHA.gov will show you that there is a trend in fatalities that is causing concern in the mining community.  In 2012 M/NM mining fatalities were at 16, with a fatality rate of .0079.  The following year in 2013 the numbers jumped to 22 fatalities, and a fatality rate of .0108.  That alone may not seem like cause for concern, but as of July 1st, halfway through the calendar year we are at 14 fatalities.  This has mine operators, as well as MSHA, rethinking the way they focus their safety efforts.481993325

In the mining industry miners are required to get initial training when hired, ongoing task training when introduced to new tasks, and eight hours of annual refresher training each year.  The initial training and the annual refresher training is typically conducted in a classroom format by a trainer employed by the mine, or by an independent training provider.  This type of training, while fulfilling compliance needs, will do little to change the habits and tendencies (i.e., behavior) of the miners.  The biggest gains to safe operations are actually made at the supervisory level.  Each supervisor has expectations for their crew, but few of them have been given the tools to effectively communicate those expectations to the variety of workers under their supervision.

The mining industry usually rewards individuals for years of service and a high production level, with a promotion to supervisor.  This type of person was likely good at what they did, with limited guidance from their own supervisor.  When they become the leader for the site, unfortunately, they expect each of their team members to have the same qualities.  This often leads to an Overseer type of management style in which expectations are communicated to each worker, but continuous follow-up, motivation, and coaching is lacking.  Studies have shown that this type of leadership style is strongly associated with increased injuries on a leader’s crew, versus a more transformational leadership style. 

Using recent technology to measure an individual’s Safety Leadership Profile will help companies identify leaders that are in need of additional skills to allow them to supervise, lead, and motivate their crew effectively when it comes to safety.  These leaders have direct contact with front-line workers and stand to make the biggest impact on individual safety.  While their current approach may drive high production rates, studies show it can also result in high incident rates.  By identifying their individual safety leadership tendencies and learning new skills that help them overcome these tendencies, however, leaders can dramatically reduce the exposure of their team members.

While the Federal Government will likely continue to focus on inspection and citation as their tool to increase compliance, mining organizations need to focus on their internal leaders to truly change the safety culture of their industry.  Assessing each individual leader’s ability to lead safety effectively, followed by training, and one-on-one coaching on the areas in need, stand to improve the safety awareness of the leader, as well as the workers in their charge.

We know fatality rates have plateaued and are starting to rise.  Industry and enforcement are scrambling to find that “next step” on our path reach zero fatalities.  If a leader understands their own Safety Leader Profile, and is taught how to improve it through everyday behavior, the workers under them stand to benefit greatly.  It is widely known that a leader is measured by the results of their followers.  Zero is out there, we just need a change in our approach to truly get there.


Our Guest Blogger this week is Terry Weston, CSP, CMSP who is a workplace safety consultant for South Central College.  He has developed and delivered countless training sessions in the areas of OSHA and MSHA.  He also presents at national conferences across the nation in the areas of training materials, delivery, and retention.

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Guest Blogger