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Thoughts From This Year’s Joseph A. Holmes National Safety Conference

June 25, 2014

The Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association was started in 1916.  I have been to the association’s National Conference on several occasions over the last 13 years.  This year the event was held in Austin, Texas, and it seemed to have a different tone. 

The coal mining industry has seen high profile disasters in the last decade including Sago (12 died), Crandall Canyon (9 died), and Upper Big Branch (29 died).  Today, metal/non-metal mining is experiencing a pace of fatalities that seems to be getting the attention of the mining community for a different reason.  This phenomenon is not a one-time high profile disaster, yet an alarming trend alerting the mining community of the need for constant improvement in our safety efforts.

162271838I did a short presentation during the conference showing results from training sessions I had conducted this past winter.  The sessions were given to several hundred metal/non-metal miners in the sand and gravel, and dimensional stone industry.  Because I use an audience response system, all of my questions and answers are tracked each year.  I am then able to go back through the numbers to spot trends.  The presentation outlined some basic delivery methods such as group discussions, short video clips, individual read-and-answer scenarios, and standard lecture. 

The results I shared were eye opening for the participants, comprised mainly of professional safety trainers and Federal Government Safety officials.  The first take-away was that when asked to vote on the specific learning style that suited them (four common styles were outlined on the screen), results showed a fairly even mix across the board, with the style including lectures and technical data being the least desired.  This indicates the difficulty in getting through to each participant when one standard training approach is used.

The next set of results was from an activity where I had the participants read a regulation on the screen followed by a yes/no question about the content.  I showed a slide of an MSHA rule that allows miners to work alone, as long as they can “communicate, be seen, or be heard.”  I presented the results of a class with 39 people in it.  The results were almost exactly 80/20.  Twenty percent of the people answered the question, “Could you legally work alone in a gravel pit?” with “NO.”  Again, the rule that states you can was presented up on the screen while the question was asked verbally, and then answered.  This certainly brought the point home – not everyone learns best in the same manner.

Discussions after the presentation centered on the fact that we have seen progress up until now, and that we seem to be getting through to the majority of folks using traditional methods of training.  The problem, it would seem, is that we are starting to reach a plateau.  Some numbers, such as the recent increase in frequency of metal/non-metal miner deaths, would suggest that we are even trending upwards in some areas.  The time to start to modify our approach to include a focus on individual traits, or SafetyDNA, seems to be upon us.  Not everyone works, learns, or applies knowledge in the same way.  As a result, everyone has their own unique blind spots when it comes to personal exposure. We need to start identifying and improving that 20%.  We cannot be satisfied with where we are currently, but rather strive to get closer to where we want to get.  That, of course, is zero.

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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