AggMan of the Year 2010
“The re-signing of a new and broadened Alliance agreement between MSHA and NSSGA is attributable to a great extent to the leadership of Committee Chair Louis Griesemer,” says Joe Casper, NSSGA vice president for safety services. “An MSHA-certified safety trainer, Louis has astutely deployed the diligence and leadership needed for advancing the Alliance’s work. And, because of this dedication, our industry is better positioned to further reduce injuries and illnesses and continue to — where appropriate — forge a stronger rapport between regulator and regulated on behalf of worker safety and health.”
Through the MSHA-NSSGA Alliance, the two groups can collaborate on improving safety through initiatives such as the Safety Alerts and further developing and adapting information available through the agency’s Tool Box Training program. “I think the Alliance continues to be a great tool for communication between the industry and the agency,” Griesemer says. “Everybody on both sides of the Alliance team wants to make it a very positive tool.”
Another mission of the Alliance Task Force is working to clarify gray areas of regulations where there can be misunderstandings or to discuss enforcement that is not based on past practice or is more vigorous than past practice. “If the rules are changing, we want to let our members know that the rules have changed,” Griesemer says. “MSHA is totally on board with that. They are trying to be very transparent in what they are doing, at least at the very top levels.”
One of the challenges, he says, is to differentiate clarification of existing rules from new rulemaking. “It is not our intent to be part of the rulemaking process, at least in that venue,” Griesemer stresses. “We want to make the agency better, but there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.”
Taking the message public
In addition to a sea change in safety, Griesemer says he’s seen a similar cultural evolution in the way the aggregates industry interacts with the public. During his earlier years, he says that operators went quietly about their business and tried to avoid public attention. “When you’re setting off explosives, that’s awfully hard to do,” he jokes.
Approximately 20 years ago, Griesemer learned the importance of community relations when he experienced what he describes as a very painful zoning defeat. “It was a big eye opener for me to see people’s attitudes toward quarries,” he said. Rather than accept vilification, Griesemer realized that the public needed to know the people and processes involved in aggregates mining. The company began to hold open houses, and, slowly but surely, personnel became more comfortable with talking to community members. Then the company’s relationship with the community improved.
“You practice it, and you get better,” Griesemer says. “After a while, you begin to enjoy it.” Springfield Underground explored additional community outreach programs including working with a local church on its Fourth of July fireworks program, opening its property to Missouri State’s cross country team practices, and hosting Boy Scout campouts. “You don’t know where it’s going to come back,” Griesemer says. “But it pays dividends down the road.”
During his tenure as chairman of the NSSGA board, Griesemer incorporated the message of community relations and public engagement into his platform. He shared his company’s journey from zoning defeat to community engagement to zoning success with numerous groups including the Young Leaders Council and a half dozen state associations. His lessons on leadership could have an impact for years to come.
“Louis Griesemer is so well respected in our industry and has been a fabulous mentor to me and many others,” says Steve Sloan, president of Midwest Minerals. “He is the consummate professional. His honesty, ethics, and principles are unparalleled.”
Grace under pressure
Two decades of community relations experience and a good rapport with his local media served Griesemer — and the entire aggregates industry — well earlier this year. Following the explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch coal mine, a television reporter called Griesemer to get a comment about the tragedy. “My first reaction was, ‘Why are you calling me?’” Griesemer recalls. Then, his communications experience kicked in, and he recognized an opportunity to differentiate aggregates mining from coal. Through a series of phone calls, he worked with association leaders to develop talking points about aggregates mining, create graphs of incidence rates based on MSHA data, and prepare for a television interview.
Cara Restelli, an investigative reporter for KY3, conducted the interview and verified his data. The result was a report that essentially shared the message Griesemer gave: the two types of mining are very different, the aggregate industry has made great strides in improving safety, and unnecessary new regulations would have a devastating impact on the aggregates industry. “The strength of the message was that this was going to be crippling at a time when we were already down and out,” Griesemer says. “I think it (S.3671) would have been the death knell for a lot of smaller operations.”
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