Reddit Users Offer Advice To A New MSHA Inspector With Absolutely No Mining Experience.
By Brian Hendrix
In August, I covered MSHA’s program to recruit new inspectors who don’t have any mining experience (MSHA is hiring! No Experience Necessary).
About a month later, I noticed this post by user “rcsrobb657” on Reddit (specifically, the r/mining subreddit):
Incoming new MSHA inspector. Absolutely no mining experience. Open to advice.
So I get many people don’t like the idea of having inspectors that aren’t miners. Since I will be one and am transferring from another agency for that job, figured I’d [ask] for open ended advice and knowledge from those of you with experience in the field.
First, I swear I’m not rcsrobb657! Second, while you may find better information via Reddit than you would if you just use Google, it is still the internet.
Plus, people usually post to Reddit anonymously. In other words, it’s possible that rcsrobb657 isn’t an “incoming new MSHA inspector.”
Having dispensed with the disclaimers, let me just say: Wow! MSHA was built on mining experience, not degrees or professional certifications. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act states that “at least five years of practical mining experience” is the “basic qualification” for an MSHA inspector. In other words “absolutely no mining experience” is precisely five years short of the five years of “practical mining experience” that Congress required MSHA inspectors to possess as a basic qualification.
On the upside, rcsrobb657 said that he or she is “transferring from another agency” so this is a person that does have at least some job experience. That’s something. Maybe. This person probably isn’t hiring on with MSHA right out of school.
Educated with no work experience does not make a good MSHA inspector (usually). Not that “educated” is a synonym for “qualified” or “competent.” It isn’t, but (depending on the institution and area of study), I’ll take educated/no experience over uneducated /inexperienced.
An even better sign is that rcsrobb657 is confident enough to admit that he or she doesn’t know anything about the industry and is smart enough to ask questions about it. That’s a great sign.
In response to rcsrobb657, the r/mining subreddit really delivered. Of course, we’re talking about an online forum for miners, so there were a few characteristically blunt, somewhat salty responses. For example, one person responded: “1. Don’t be a d***. 2. Don’t be a d***. 3. Don’t be a d***.” Similarly, there was this: “Don’t show up acting like you’re the authority in someone else’s house in an industry you don’t know. The guys will see right thru your s***.” Language aside, that’s all sound advice, albeit not exactly mining specific advice.
However, there were a host of solid mining specific responses, four of which really stood out.
The first was from “Archaic_1”:
Try to see the big picture. I once had an MSHA inspector climb up my a** about a kinked wireline cable and the fact that I hadn’t chocked my wheels in both directions (while on a easily observed slope). Meanwhile, he walked right past an unguarded conveyor belt and missing stop logs. Now, technically he was right, my truck could roll up hill and a kinked 3/16 in. cable could cause something to get snagged, I guess. Realistically though, he was looking at miners instead of looking at the mine. If the miners start posting a lookout to keep an eye out for you, you’re doing your job badly. The best MSHA inspector is the one that you can grab and say this is all f***** up how do we make it right? Be that guy.
[U]nderstand the operational realities of the different sites you might visit . . . surface and underground sites have dramatically different challenges . . . seeing the big picture is important . . .
Mines might look similar but behave very differently, whether it’s because of culture, leadership or inherent operational challenges. Understanding how these factors interact is the key to good safety.
This response by “MarkXIX44” is great:
1. Familiarize yourself with the 30 CFR. It’s the rule book we all play by.
2. Use your inspection findings for moments of coaching. Every miner from the lowest and newest nipper to the seasoned veteran General Superintendent wants to do their job safely and go home at the end of every shift. Very rarely do people go to work with the intent of doing something unsafe or wrong.
3. Be personable and approachable. You’re walking into a situation where it’s viewed as the “G” Man lording over the worker. But many people have questions and are wanting to … receive answers from the field expert.
4. Be familiar with the Mine Act of 1977 and how that pertains to every miner.
Mining… has become safer than it ever was over the last 50 years. A second set of eyes is never a bad thing, provided it’s done in fairness … I personally believe … that the success of this lays in training, a safety culture and the ability to talk to shifters, foremen and safety personnel alike. Miners feel like they’re heard, and when Stop Work Authority is used in good faith, miners are able to have safety issues corrected. … [Y]ou will run into the occasional bone head who will go rogue just to get through his day. Usually though, there’s an underlying reason, and more often than not, it’s either due to a lack of training or a breakdown in communication. Remember though, one person isn’t a reflection on the company as a whole, and we do our best to weed these people out or get to the underlying issues …
Finally, from “MeZue” there’s this:
Just realize what they are working with and don’t put them out of business. Don’t be the destruction you’re trying to prevent. Most operators are trying to do good, it’s just hard to be perfect. … Work with people.
This is all good advice for a new MSHA hire with absolutely no mining experience. Despite the lack of experience – the basic qualification for an inspector – the willingness of rcsrobb657 to ask questions will serve him well. I hope that, as user MarkXIX44 advised, he or she is able to “[t]ake advantage of training and career development opportunities,” in order to “[l]earn his role and become an expert.”
I also hope that MSHA is capable of providing all the training necessary to turn a person with no mining experience into a good mine inspector. We’ll soon see. MSHA should not be hiring people with little to no mining experience to serve as mine inspectors, but that’s what it’s doing.
Brian Hendrix is a partner at Husch Blackwell LLP. As a member of the Energy & Natural Resources group, he advises clients on environmental, health and safety law, with a focus on litigation, incident investigations, enforcement defense and regulatory compliance counseling. He can be reached at [email protected]