Safety is a Local Thing

By Randy K Logsdon

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neil was a colorful character. Despite being on opposite sides of the political pond, he and then President Ronald Reagan became good friends and enjoyed sharing Irish jokes.

One thing that O’Neil was fond of saying was that “all politics are local.” That was his way of saying that despite the perceived national and international implications of what was said and done in Washington D.C., what was most important was the impression and impact on the folks at home – in the states and local congressional districts.

The Same May Be Said For Safety

As operators, we have a unique understanding of our own operations. We know the personnel, the equipment and the processes. We know trouble spots and the danger spots. In contrast, MSHA is a large and powerful bureaucracy with a focus on mine safety at a national level.

MSHA is a collector of injury and compliance data. Analysis of that data reveals much about national trends. We can track on a wide scale the ratio of reportable powered haulage related injuries vs. materials handling injuries. We can see the variation in injury numbers from month to month and state to state.

We can even track the day of the week on which injuries occur. MSHA is proactive in making these analyses available to stakeholders in the industry – including the inspectors at your local field office who could be influenced in their inspection focus by the national trends.

Press releases are issued, and initiatives instituted our of MSHA headquarters. New regulation and periodically legislation stem from these trends. It’s entirely possible that none of this adds value to your site specific safety initiatives.

Don’t Misunderstand

The analysis that MSHA provides can be valuable. Some of the statistics are broken down by state and even by commodity. The data that you supply via 7000-2 reports and that the field office supplies about enforcement activity at your site can be retrieved and reviewed on the MSHA website with some analysis included.

If you want to know your POV, NFDL rate or VIPD, the information is just a few clicks away. Guides, advisories and links to training materials can be accessed easily. As sketchy as Fatalgrams are, they too can be valuable reminders of how errors can produce tragedy.

But, Where Is The Real Passion?

Anyone at any level in the MSHA agency will confirm that each and every fatal mining incident is a tragedy. But where is that tragedy most felt? If the effects are most intently felt at home, then safety also must be local – motivated, directed and applied.

What I am suggesting is that safety is most effective at (to borrow another political term) a grassroots level. Learn and understand what is happening nationwide, but do not rush to adopt MSHA’s accident prevention focus as your own.

While there may be some correlation, the set of risks your folks face is likely to be profoundly different from MSHA’s concept. You and your staff are in the best position to make that evaluation and determine your safety focus – what works for you.

If you have not already, invest a bit of time identifying the high-level safety risks at your operation. What keeps you awake? What’s on your wish list for safety improvements? What are the guys saying?

Our MSHA colleagues will continue to publish the national trends. Inspectors will continue to focus on compliance. We know the ground rules under which me must operate.

We will continue to be pressed to do our part in reversing undesirable national trends. But in the midst of the downward flow, remind yourself now and then that all safety is local.

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