In a meeting with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Administrator Joe Main on Sept. 11, NSSGA Board of Directors’ Chairman Ward Nye, president and CEO, Martin Marietta Materials, expressed appreciation for the chance to re-emphasize both the industry’s and the association’s commitment to workplace safety and health, as well as compliance with MSHA standards.
Main was accompanied by MSHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Patricia Silvey and Acting Administrator for Metal/Non-metal Marv Lichtenfels. Nye was accompanied by NSSGA’s President and CEO Mike Johnson and Vice President for Safety Services Joseph Casper.
Nye reiterated earlier statements that given the commonality of the organizations’ goals – worker safety – NSSGA remains committed to working reasonably and constructively with MSHA. However, Nye also stated that some NSSGA members are expressing concern that the association is at times too close to MSHA. Nye further said that assuring an open and engaged, but candid, relationship between the association and MSHA is in everyone’s best interests.
Nye stated appreciation for MSHA’s work on inspector consistency. However, he also underscored that the industry seeks more, offering an example of the notion of a transparent metric to illustrate progress on consistency. Similarly, the agency could periodically update operators and inspectors when citations are modified or vacated. In response, Main said he’s seen improvements in consistency and that, in fact, fewer citations have been written this year than last. Main went on to say that he encourages operators to talk with their inspectors.
As a result, NSSGA will send a reminder note to members concerning the merits of proactively engaging with MSHA inspectors and other field office personnel so that a genuine working relationship is established on behalf of compliance and consistency.
Regarding the State Grants program, Nye revisited with Main that the $10 million training investment called for in the 1977 Mine Act is critical for safety. Main agreed that the State Grants program is important because, despite the primacy of enforcement, compliance assistance needs to play a crucial supplemental role. Main said that his study of the situation shows that: (1) aggregates stakeholders received less than a proportionate amount of state grants dollars; and (2) that some medium-sized companies benefited to the detriment of smaller operators. After indicating that a Continuing Resolution – and not the Obama FY’14 budget (which calls for elimination of State Grants) – will likely fund the federal government in coming months, Main said that he has been informing state aggregates associations that his office wants optimal collaboration with recipients of state grant money. He stated the belief that collaboration will optimize the positive impact of compliance assistance dollars and conceded that different state grantees deliver various levels of valuable compliance assistance. He went on to say that he wants to re-tool education and training, as well as learn of a better model for delivery. Main said he wants to expand training resources and materials. Johnson volunteered NSSGA to help in that effort.
As a result, NSSGA again will communicate directly with state executives urging them to help elicit good data on the value of their specific State Grants program and channel that information back to MSHA headquarters.
Nye then made the case for genuine risk-focused enforcement, i.e., focus on facilities failing to demonstrate due respect for compliance and safety. Nye said that inspectors should direct their effort toward poorer performing facilities. Main reminded the meeting attendees of the mandatory two inspections for surface facilities and four inspections for underground facilities, but stated that he would welcome information, context and data NSSGA might be able to provide.
Accordingly, NSSGA will fashion protocol(s) by which MSHA could establish the criteria necessary for delineating outstanding facilities/companies worthy of benefitting from a pilot “Pattern of Compliance” program.
Nye said that, despite NSSGA’s desire to shorten inspector time at high-performing operations, the association believes inspectors should use their time at mines as an opportunity to more positively interact with miners, promote safety and encourage adoption of best practices. Lichtenfels replied that while this interaction is encouraged, the agency will do more to promote the practice.
Regarding citation conferencing, Nye asserted that more independent review of citations conferenced can help relieve the case backlog at the Review Commission. He expressed the hope that more latitude will be given to those leading the conference process to independently evaluate the quality of paper written. Main said not enough companies use the conferencing process. NSSGA asserted its plan to remind operators to conference citations believed to have been issued in error.
NSSGA will encourage members to conference higher percentages of citations so that, perhaps, a lower percentage would be legally contested.