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This Is Not Your Father’s MSHA Safety Training


Reaching a Higher Level of Involvement in an Effort to Attain New Levels of Safety on the Job.

By Joseph McGuire, Emily Haas and Chad Ferguson

For the past several years the authors of this article have had an opportunity to showcase new training materials with accompanying research at the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) annual TRAM conference in Beckley, W.Va. More specifically, over the past three years, we began these sessions by asking attendees these questions:

  • How do you usually deliver your MSHA Annual Refresher Training (ART)?
  • What topics do you typically cover in your MSHA ART?
  • What topics did you cover last year, the year before that, and the year before that?
  • How do your “students” respond to training when topics do not change year-after-year?
  • Do you teach them what they already know?

The Current State of Annual Refresher Training for Workers

Often during these sessions a majority of attendees indicate their preferred delivery of training is the use of lectures through PowerPoint slides along with occasional videos. In other words, teacher-centered training. Typical topics covered within their MSHA ARTs included:

Miners’ Rights. Accident Prevention. Confined Spaces.
Haz. Comm. High Wall Hazards. Ground Control.
Lockout/Tag out. Electrical Safety. First Aid.
Using Explosives. Fire Prevention. Hearing Conservation.
 Use of PPE.  Fall Protection. Water Hazards.
 Respiratory Devices.  Equipment Guarding. Emergencies/Escape.
 Defensive Driving. Changes to Mine Site.  Drug/Alcohol Abuse.

When asked what topics they covered in previous years, attendees often listed the same or similar topics. These same attendees are also quick to say that employees, or students, are less than enthusiastic about being in another ART, especially when the same topics are being covered year after year. This consistent feedback shows that using the teacher-centered model for delivering training has changed very little over the last few decades. Overhead projectors have given way to computers and PowerPoint presentations, but the topics and related content are the same.

This is not to say that these topics should not covered, but it should cause educators or trainers to reflect on how much time should be devoted to them each year. In other words, teaching people what they already know, while using the same materials each year, does little to provide useful or usable information to those in attendance.

Rather, the redundancy creates passivity and does very little to encourage people to learn new information (Mager, 1988). Mager (1988), a performance-based training expert, points out in his first two rules on administering effective training that first, training is appropriate only when there is something that one or two people do not know how to do and they need to be able to do it. Second, if they already know how to do it, more training will not help.

It is no secret that a multitude of companies, consultants and colleges offer in-person or computer-based/e-learning sources that can satisfy MSHA ART requirements. In general, MSHA ART is often a repetition of typical safety topics with an occasional focus on an immediate issue such as performing task training; following proper lockout/tag out procedures; operating with inadequate guards; powered haulage problems; or the importance of wearing seatbelts.

Getting to a Higher Level of Engagement

Regarding delivery of the training content, it appears that more often than not, problem areas are outlined along with company polices, rules, regulations and best practices. But, little is done to help participants resolve issues or fix the problems that were discussed. It appears that these trainings and their respective trainers are really good at pointing out weak areas in which everyone needs to be more aware or improve. However, little is done to assist workers in developing realistic goals or written plans to guide them in correcting issues or improving safety performance on a daily basis.

Beginning in 2014, to break the outdated, teacher-centered, “Death by PowerPoint” approach to training, Iowa aggregates company Cessford Construction (a CRH Americas Materials Company) became the first to participate in an innovative MSHA educational program following a non-traditional, student-centered model. This program was designed to encourage employees to become active participants in their learning process by using a series of six workbooks to guide their skill development. Although a different workbook each year, facilitators or coaches begin their sessions by providing a review of some of the critical, day-to-day safety topics listed above.

However, after these topics were briefly covered, employees were encouraged to move to a higher level of engagement by being involved in discussions on subjects that have a strong influence on safety such as the role of leadership, team building, team decision making, the importance of speaking up, workplace violence, improving communication, having crucial conversations or other similar topics.

Research shows discussions on topics such as these drive workplace safety upward and contribute to improved employee safety performance (McGuire & Snead, 2017). Based on data generated from perceptual surveys completed by those who participated in this educational process, a review of the company’s accident/injury statistics and employee observations, this MSHA ART safety educational process has increased a majority of participants’ safety knowledge and has contributed to their improved safety performance.

Consequently, in 2019 the Cessford’s leadership team decided to take their MSHA ART to an even higher level. Rather than identifying hazards or issues for employees, the leadership team asked their employees to:

  • Identify hazards associated with the tasks they perform.
  • Discuss corrective actions which could be taken to address hazards identified by the group.
  • Reach a consensus on what needs to be accomplished and develop a written plan to address the hazard(s) identified including goals, timelines, and a list of activities to help mitigate the risks to an acceptable level.

Task training, distracted driving, powered haulage, and seat belt use were just a few of the problem areas employees identified. Due to powered haulage being an important initiative for MSHA and a critical issue for our employee’s safety, we focused on this topic for further development and it became a significant section of the 8th edition of MSHA Annual Refresher Education Volume VIII. During their 2019 annual refresher education class, employees used the written materials and participated in group discussions. During this process employees:

  • Became more aware of MSHA’s concern and position on the disturbing trend related to powered haulage accidents, incidents and fatalities on metal and non-metal mine sites.
  • Were provided best practices, outlined by MSHA, to reduce the number and severity of powered haulage incidents.
  • Participated in group discussions to elicit what they believed were causes or behaviors which contributed to powered haulage incidents and fatalities.
  • Discussed and developed potential actions or processes to eliminate or manage the factors that contribute to powered haulage incidents.
  • Agreed on the actions and goals which should be included in a plan to manage powered haulage accidents, incidents and fatalities.
  • Agreed to actively participate in the “Plan to Eliminate and Manage Powered Haulage Accidents, Incidents and Fatalities,” which was developed with input from all employees.

Based on recommendations from Cessford’s leaders and employees, a committee of salaried and hourly workers were brought together to review employee feedback and develop a plan to manage hazards related to powered haulage. Developing a plan, whether for business, production, or safety can be a difficult task; we found the process can be simpler by following these steps:

1. Develop a plan: Describes where you are, where you would like to be, and the actions you need to take to get there.

2. Review what the team does: Think about your team. What is the work they do or the tasks that they perform? What products do they provide and how do these all relate to you, your organization and the safety of everyone?

3. Communicate with team members and leaders: Talk with each member of your team about what they do, typical hazards, and critical safety concerns. Communication can encourage everyone to become more engaged in the process and contribute to the plan since they will be an integral part of developing it.

4. Prioritize group goals and company objectives: Define the long-term goals your team would like to achieve even if they may seem impossible to reach. Then, prioritize your goals and break them into smaller, easier to achieve goals. Identify what actions are needed to achieve your goals and the time frame in which they will be accomplished.

5. Training: A plan should identify and include any training needed to help employees overcome barriers which might prevent them from achieving their safety goals.

6. End results: Discuss the benefits of achieving your goals. Make your plan personal and relevant to all who will be affected by it.

Adhering to the general guidelines above and with a focus on communication throughout the process, the committee completed and implemented their plan that began in their MSHA Annual Refresher Training. The process is discussed below.

First Step: Building the Plan

First, the committee completed the following tasks:

  • Reviewed what co-workers believe are causes of powered haulage accidents, incidents and fatalities (as identified in their MSHA ART).
  • Discussed the processes they could follow to help manage or eliminate the causes.
  • Determined it would be easier to develop a plan if the actions or behaviors that cause or contribute to powered haulage incidents were put into categories.
  • Asked NIOSH Staff for assistance in outlining a Powered Haulage Safety Plan based on the information provided by employees. They determined the causes and actions to correct problems could be placed into the following categories: workers; managers; site/equipment; and worker preparedness. The committee agreed with these categories.
  • Decided to proceed with developing a Powered Haulage Management Plan.

Based on the committee’s discussions and with assistance from NIOSH, a “Plan to Eliminate and Manage Powered Haulage Accidents, Injuries and Fatalities,” was developed. As currently written this plan outlines:

  • Actions, activities and goals designed to eliminate or manage accidents, incidents and potential fatalities related to powered haulage equipment on the company’s sites and projects. The plan focuses on what MSHA identified as the three major causes or negative consequences of incidents including the following: 1) Larger vehicles striking smaller vehicles, plants or other structures; 2) Mobile equipment moving on the site/seat belt usage; and 3) Using conveyors to move materials.
  • Ways to measure activities or goals, including strengths and weaknesses, were deemed to be necessary. They could be measured by: 1) Employee observations; 2) Written employee surveys; 3) Employee comments or face-to-face interviews; and 4) Review of employee near miss reports.
  • Four leading indicator checklists – or scorecards – which provide objectives/goals of the plan; causes or behaviors which contribute to powered haulage incidents, and actions or processes which could be utilized to manage them. The checklists are titled:

Checklist for Workers.

Checklist for Managers.

Checklist for Site/Equipment.

Checklist for Worker Preparedness.

  • The “Plan to Eliminate and Manage Powered Haulage Accidents, Injuries and Fatalities” was provided to the committee for review and further action.

Second Step: Reviewing and Implementing the Plan

In March 2019, the committee reviewed and approved the plan, which would be implemented in April 2019. They also agreed on ways to improve implementation of the plan by including the following changes and expectations:

  • Combine some of the items on the Worker and Manager Checklists.
  • Update site maps to ensure they accurately depict all facilities, roads, stockpiles, plants, other features and identification of staging/loading area for customers with pickups, other small trucks and those with trailers.
  • Consistently encourage employees to review the checklists on weekly basis, document changes and make comments on progress, successes, or areas that need immediate attention.

One example of the scorecard, or checklist, for Cessford’s Powered Haulage Plan is below. It is easy to see the overlap in the communication card offered in the previous article and how the issue in the card below was just adapted to be more specific to powered haulage. These measurements have provided a reminder and incentive for management and coworkers to communicate with each other about possible risks during pre-shift checks and during shifts to minimize hazards related to powered haulage, as the subsequent examples illustrate.

Third Step: Measuring Progress

Two, four and six weeks after Cessford leaders implemented its “Plan to Eliminate or Manage Powered Haulage Accidents, Injuries and Fatalities,” several site visits were conducted to ask employees how the plan was being used or if they had any questions. Initially there were a few employees who were a little uncertain about what they were to do, but the majority of them have used one or more of the checklists in some manner, had written comments or “checked the done column” to show that they had completed some tasks. Examples of actions taken or tasks completed are listed below. It should be noted that several of these tasks also encouraged the concept of “See something, say something,” which is another company-wide effort that started about a year ago (McGuire et al., 2018).

  • An equipment operator indicated that he is more conscientious about wearing his seat belt now than in past.
  • A scale operator observed an employee without proper PPE … this person was asked to return to the vehicle and get what was needed.
  • A quality control person observed an employee parking his pickup truck without chocking his wheels at which point a communication intervention took place to get the wheels chocked.
  • A front-end loader operator noted a couple of blind spots interfering with his view from the cab (after operating the loader for almost one year).
  • Managers of five separate sites have designated a staging/loading areas for pickup trucks, pickup trucks with trailers and other smaller vehicles in an effort to keep smaller vehicles away from operations, stockpile areas, and roads used by front end loaders, heavy haul trucks or other large equipment.
  • A front-end loader operator noted a blind spot between two large stock piles that come into play when loading customer trucks.
  • Several front-end loaders and haul truck operators said they are cleaning their lights, windows and mirrors more often.
  • Contracted haul truck drivers were driving too fast on site, causing a potential hazard to customer trucks which, after being loaded, were exiting between two large stockpiles. The loader operator and scale person both discussed it with the supervisors who told his drivers to slow down.
  • Stockpiles were identified as causing a blind spot for truck drivers.
  • At one location, trucks must back-up from the scale to get more materials because of “light loads” or to dump material in event of an overload. At this site they must back off the scale and turn around on a county road that is adjacent to the scale. This setup creates a hazard for both truck drivers and the motoring public. This observation and suggestion was provided by the person who runs the scale house, as recorded on her checklist. In response, company managers requested a meeting with the county and permission was granted to build another entrance into the quarry, which would allow trucks to leave the scale and turn into the quarry rather than the county road.
  • One supervisor started using the checklists as part of his team’s daily safety discussion.
  • All sites/employees have been provided with hand signal cards, which has increased hand signal awareness and consistency throughout the work crews.
  • A veteran front-end loader operator identified and blocked access to two areas to prevent anyone from entering them and being hurt.
  • One supervisor now pays more attention to members of his team and asks them if they are tired and need a break.
  • Several employees have made written comments on their checklist forms.
  • Several employees verbally indicated they believe the checklists are a useful tool and serve as a reminder to look at many more hazards each day.
  • See Something, Say Something … not enough in the past.
  • Called for a spotter where semis have to back into tight areas.
  • Blocked areas near high-wall and to pit.

Overall Comments and Recommendations to Sustain Engagement

As educators, teachers or trainers we spend years growing our knowledge base. Subsequently, we spend a great deal of time developing educational classes or training sessions based on what we have learned and then train those in the mining industry about what we know.

But, in the end, do we teach our students what they need to know or want to learn?

If we are providing training in hopes a company’s safety record will get better or their employee’s safety behavior will improve, teaching the same topics year-after-year will probably not contribute a great deal to helping workers accomplish those goals.

As educators, it is our responsibility to make sure that safety training provided is relevant. However, a critical missing link is our ability to ensure that people are able to apply what they learned to their work tasks after the training is over. This plan provides a model of employees overcoming this issue by applying what they learned to the work they perform.

This case study is an example of taking safety training to a higher level and then maintaining that level of engagement after the training is over.

However, training is just the first step. It is the implementation of practices and skills learned on a daily basis that will have a long-term impact on health and safety. In our case, encouraging workers to identify hazards and unsafe behaviors or conditions in their workplaces, allowing them to be creative in finding solutions, and empowering them to take the lead in “fixing” them, increased employee engagement, motivation and overall safety awareness.

As illustrated in workers’ comments provided earlier, through developing, implementing and tracking their own management plan, employees not only understood what can be done better, but also why safety improvements should be made.

Simply put, a company will obtain more buy-in and see their workers accomplish more if they are allowed to be part of the process. In spreading out the responsibility to everyone, we helped our employees grow and will watch them step up and become leaders.

This case study showed that, in the end, our responsibility as trainers or educators is not to our content nor to just fulfill training requirements.

Rather, our responsibility is help our students find ways to reach a higher level of involvement in an effort to attain new levels of safety on the job.

Joseph McGuire Ph.D., is an independent safety and health consultant, Emily Haas Ph.D., is a researcher and behavioral scientist for NIOSH and Chad Ferguson is general manager, CRH Americas Materials.


MSHA