Mine Safety: An Update on the Mine Safety Environment from Mining IQ
Posted: 07/24/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT | 1
Mine Safety: An Update on the Mine Safety Environment from Mining IQ
Ruel Baird, Project Director for Mining IQ, recently researched the current state of play with regards safety in mining in the American marketplace. Ruel’s research highlighted the major challenges, drivers and barriers facing mine safety specialists across the country and some clear trends became apparent.
The current situation in America sees both federal and state regulators examining mining safety protocols with renewed vigour and establishing new mining regulations at a rapid pace. Concurrently, the industry is contending with an aging workforce and the subsequent loss of knowledge as well as an innate resistance to safety culture from workers.
When mine safety specialists were asked to list their current top challenges faced daily – some clear patterns emerged; contending with new and current mining regulations, resistance to change and behavioural safety from the workforce, inconsistencies with training platforms and programs, a lack of technology to support safety, disaster planning and risk mitigation and finally creating a safety culture that exists at the heart of all operations and processes. Let’s delve a little deeper into each of these.
Mine Safety Legislation and Regulation
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (protecting Miner’s health since 1978) have been active in the management and creation of specific regulation pertaining to mine safety and health. Many of the mine safety specialists interviewed commented that they were struggling to keep up with the legislative wave of regulations and also with the associated costs of being compliant (time and resources). There was also frustration cited with regards inconsistencies from the MHSA site inspectors and a sense that they are too subjective and not objective enough.
Internal Resistance to Change
Mine safety is never a ‘fait accompli’. It requires on-going, structured attention and has to be closely managed. It will always be a work in progress and should be treated as such. How does this translate to your workforce? Well, it means that, regardless of their generation or their level of experience, all workers need to embrace, or at the very least be constantly reminded, that safety is their number one priority.
All of the above is especially difficult when you are faced with resistance to change combined with an aging workforce or inexperienced new joiners to your workforce. Challenges sited with generational differences included complacency from baby boomers mirrored with impatience from the younger generation – both of which are equally hard to combat.
Mine safety specialists cited internal resistance to change one of their toughest challenges as it has to be brought to people’s attention daily. Members of your workforce need to be engaged – but also empowered - if a safety strategy is going to be effective and responsibilities (as well as implications) need to be clearly relayed.
Inconsistencies with Training Programs and Platforms
Training is paramount when you are dealing with mine safety. However – the effectiveness of the training correlates to the skills of the trainer and the accountability of those involved. Subjectivity within MSHA trainers was cited as a cause of frustration by many interviewees who felt overwhelmed by the challenge of implementing effective training. Training falling on ‘deaf ears’ was also an issue raised in the research. Specifically, if the workforce receiving the training is not engaged in the benefits of that training, it will be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to ensure the required outcomes of the training in the first instance.
A Lack of Technology to Support Safety
A number of those interviewed commented that technology in this space really needs to ‘catch up’. The technology currently available to them is not enabling the changes they wish to make and maintain and consequently means they have a natural caution about their technology options specific to mine safety. Many also shared that new technology is being tried and tested, which excites them, however – as of yet – they do not feel as if the positive results from this testing have been proven enough.
Disaster Planning and Risk Mitigation
When one mine has a situation / catastrophe – it doesn’t matter how small or large the mine / the incident is – all mines are impacted by default. Therefore, it is imperative that a disaster response / emergency response plan is in place to mitigate risk effectively.
A water-tight plan will help to achieve safety objectives as well as to protect the health and safety of your workforce. Challenges cited related back to the importance of a mine safety culture. A culture that is proactive about safety and which is innate to every level of a workforce is the best protection an organisation can have.
Creating and Maintaining a Mine Safety Culture
To conclude, it is evident that behaviour based safety is the key to mine safety in any organisation or at any mine site.
However, it is also a case of ‘easier said than done’. In order to achieve success with your ‘safety culture’ there are some elements that you need to consider if you are to succeed.
First of all, leadership is critical. You need to have a strategy in place to pre-empt and overcome resistance to change. However – to do this – you need the right leaders in place. You need internal ‘champions’ who are empowered to do things right. Your leaders must lead by example and be a constant beacon of best practice to others in the workforce. Underestimating the impact of your leaders is a fatal mistake to make.
Secondly, those interviewed cited the importance of change management. Resistance to change or a refusal to recognise new regulations or processes is the first step along a dangerous path for workers on a mine site and a self-sustaining change management program is imperative. It is also important to recognise that this is not a ‘one-off’ exercise and that it must be nurtured and maintained on an on-going basis.
Finally – behavioural based safety means that you must understand the psyche of your workforce and what inspires, motivates and drives them. You need to understand their personal values and what’s important to them if you are to change their attitudes and get them to ‘value’ safety as a priority. Those researched with suggested the following techniques to achieve this:
- Focus on their families – make them appreciate that safety impacts more than the individual
- Make the implications of ‘not being safe’ clear and real and not just theoretical
- Implement a solid succession plan and annual development reviews to reinforce safety
- Focus on empowerment and try to get people feel morally obliged to ‘do things right’
- Understand their personal challenges – what is stopping them being safe? Are there barriers that you are not aware of? If you can understand any limitations or restrictions they face then you can alleviate the problem
- Reinforce good behaviour – observe your workforce and congratulate individuals or teams who are upholding a safety culture / have the right attitude. Continue to build trust between supervisors and workers.
- Educate your workforce – be transparent and make it clear that their safety is your priority
In summary, safety specialists in America are facing a number of challenges with regards mine safety. They need to implement a culture of safety throughout their mine sites whilst also protecting productivity. It seems that all interviewed, regardless of the size of the mine site, were concerned with a resistant attitude to change from their workforce combined with a variety of other challenges including regulations, workforce demographics and resourcing. All agreed that safety was paramount. However – there is no blueprint of how this might be achieved and each mine site is doing its utmost to make the best of the situation within their own limited time frame and resources.
Redemption for the Devil’s Metal
Big Nickel...Serious Gold
How to Create a Compelling Leadership Culture
Mine Rescue and Emergency Management - Trapped miners in New Zealand gold mine
Gold Loan - Financing Mining Focus
New South Wales Coal Mining Boom
Mining Consultants: A Commentary on Ability and Success
Fly In Fly Out (FIFO), FIFO camps and the Mining Lifestyle
60% of Waste in Every Mining Operation - Business Improvement Tools Essential for your Mine Site
Mine Site Security Update: Are Mine Sites Managing Internal Threats?
* = required.