Why Do We Have To?


ne of the MSHA standards that we’ve grown to know and love is captured in the quotation above. It’s a perfect example of MSHA’s institutional neglect in maintaining certain standards with respect to advanced technology – fall arrest harnesses and retractable lanyards.

More appropriately, it demonstrates an insightful application of MSHA’s stated viewpoint through many administrations that the MSHA standards represent a minimal compliance level. Since most harness are not equipped with a “belt” that wraps around the waist and buckles in the front, (technically speaking) a harness does not meet the standard.

However, the expectation is that mine operators and miners will operate under a stricter standard of safety. Therefore, MSHA has (in practice) eagerly accepted harnesses in lieu of safety belts despite the antiquated language of the standard. But there is an extension of the issue.

The vast majority of miners and operators have a keen appreciation for safety and for the rules and procedures that promote safety in the workplace. Yet all too frequently, one of the less noble aspects of human nature does seep into the conversation.

We see it appear when a procedural decision has to be made and someone raises the question (often to the safety officer or a supervisor): “What does MSHA require?” It may be raised even more generally: “What do I have to do?” Such questions usually result in a search for the written standard or rule and various examples and interpretations to find the “legal” answer. The better question would be: “What should be done to provide the greatest degree of safety?”

The question is also asked in a slightly different format when two groups under different management are working in the same space. Imagine a scenario where a contract workforce is working in close proximity to the operations workforce at a mine site. The contractors have worked for a number of operators – both in mining and in general industry.

Over the years, they have had to adopt safety practices mandated at each of the various operations and have incorporated many of them into their corporate safety policy. One of those practices involves the use of reflective vests for all personnel. A relatively new contract employee (this is his first job with this outfit) approaches his supervisor: “This vest is annoying. Look over there. These miners don’t have to wear vests. Why do we have to?”

Why do we have to?

The supervisor’s answer could be as brief as: “Because if you don’t, I’ll fire you.” Or it could develop into a thorough coaching session focused on how the contractor’s standards have evolved over the years – being more stringent that some of the host sites.

He might conclude with a remark that the value in being visible adds to your safety. He may even site examples. Or the supervisor could pose an alternative question to the employee: “Why would you not want to be as safe as possible?” What would your answer be?

Neither your safety nor my safety is limited by rules and regulations. They are (as MSHA folks have stated time and again) the minimum standards. So:

  • Why would you not slow down 10 or 15 mph on the highway when bad weather hits?
  • Why would you not tie off your ladder when working at home?
  • Why would you not set your parking brake off-site – even on a level surface?
  • Why would you not wear protective clothing and eye protection when mowing the yard?
  • Why would you not pull off the road to a safe location to handle a cell phone call?
  • Why would you not use the handrail on the stairway?
  • Why would you not get help handling a heavy or awkward load?

Why would you settle for minimal safety (lowest common denominator) when you can maximize safety for yourself and others? Why would you not want to be as safe as possible?

30 CFR § 56/57.15005
Safety belts and lines.
Safety belts and lines shall be worn when persons work where there is danger of falling; a second person shall tend the lifeline when bins, tanks, or other dangerous areas are entered.

Randy K. Logsdon, CMSP, is manager of safety for Intrepid Potash New Mexico operations. He has practiced safety on both the coal and metal/non-metal side of mining for more than 30 years. Randy is a Certified Mine Safety Professional. ­­­He can be reached at [email protected]

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