By Randy Logsdon
I will be the first to admit that I am something of a political junkie – an adamant observer, not a participant. And I’ve carefully tried to refrain from inserting my political opinions and leanings into this column. So, please do not draw any political bias from what I am about to say.
That being said, with regard to a number of issues currently being debated in Washington, D.C., I recognize two philosophical camps at work inside (and outside) the beltway. There are those who see (or at least look for) a silver lining in every dark cloud and there are those who observe that every silver lining is accompanied by a dark cloud.
One of the most debated topics these days is the sequester – the Congressional default action that calls for automatic cuts in the annual increase in spending by the federal government. One group recognizes this attempt at reigning-in spending as an unmitigated disaster that will result in devastating effects across the country. The other group views the sequester as a poorly conceived but necessary exercise in fiscal restraint.
MSHA, like many other government agencies, is caught in the middle of the debate. The agency has already announced that it will reallocate $5 million from its state grants program to assist enforcement. Even so, the enforcement effort will likely be affected. On February 15, the Acting Secretary of Labor (Seth Harris) notified the Senate Appropriations Committee that inspections in the metal/non-metal side of the mining industry would decline in favor of maintaining a level of inspection in the coal sector. He warned that this action could lead to increased injuries and fatalities on the Metal/Non-metal side.
While enforcement of rules and regulations under the mine safety acts serves a purpose in accident and injury prevention, most safety professionals agree that a balanced approach is most effective. The metal/non-metal mining industry now has an unexpected opportunity to prove that point.
We can assume that (as a consequence of Harris’ prediction) MSHA will be closely monitoring the fatal and reportable incident rates (post-sequester) intently. They will hope to prove to Congress that additional taxpayer funding is needed to pay for additional enforcement resources in order to correct the anticipated increase in fatal and reportable incidents.
We can also expect that MSHA will step up Part 50 audits to ensure that operators are not under reporting in order to favorably influence the rates. The implication is that the industry cannot maintain or improve our injury experience rates without MSHA oversight. Over the next few months, we have a golden opportunity to prove that it can.
If there ever was a more perfect moment to step up your company safety and health (accident and injury prevention) initiatives, it’s now.
- Renew your safety and health programs and procedures.
- Step up the quality and even the frequency of internal in spections, audits, workplace exams and equipment in spections.
- Evaluate how effectively safety and health principles are integrated into both routine and occasional tasks and procedures.
- Ensure that your training materials and methods are effective.
- Make adjustments as necessary.
- Reinforce the positive.
While we each work to improve safety at each of or our operations to prove a point, we collectively reduce the likelihood of a serious injury to each of our employees. Let’s call that the “Golden Lining.”