July 1, 2012
Nearly everyone has heard the phrase, ‘If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.’ Those words echoed through my mind as I read a copy of the letter sent by Sen. John Kline (R-Minn.), who serves as chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Education and the Workforce, to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Kline took the agency to task for having a significantly higher injury rate than the industries it monitors.
“MSHA has stated its ‘culture of prevention embeds safety and health as core values in all initiatives and ongoing activities.’ However, it appears this core value is not being instilled in MSHA’s own safety and health initiatives,” he wrote. “As MSHA continues to address shortcomings in enforcement, training, and management in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, I want to ensure the agency includes a review of internal safety and health programs.”
According to Kline’s letter, MSHA had an average of 5.69 injuries/illnesses per 100 employees during the last five years. In comparison, the 2010 lost work day injury rate was 2.73 for stone mining and 2.31 for sand and gravel mining. MSHA has also experienced nearly three times the number of total injury and illness cases compared to its counterpart, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
For further investigation, Kline asked the agency to submit a number of documents to the committee, including a list and description of all MSHA personnel injuries and illnesses since 2007, any and all evaluations of its safety and health programs, any and all communication to MSHA employees regarding their own safety and health in the field, and a list of management initiatives to reduce the injury and incident rates of its employees.
During recent years, the frequency and value of MSHA citations has increased dramatically. Good operators have endured inconsistent, yet vigorous enforcement actions right along with those who truly merited the scrutiny. Given its zest for citing operators for every infraction — real or perceived — it’s rather poetic to watch MSHA having its own feet held to the fire. After all, if you can’t walk the walk, don’t write the paper.
3 Things I Learned from this Issue
1. Noise from backup alarms that sound like ducks dissipates more quickly than beeping alarms, page 18.
2. Taking care of small housekeeping issues can be more important than major issues, page 23.
3. Vehicle traffic patterns can affect berm requirements around scales, page 42.