MSHA Tackles Social Media

Right Now, MSHA Isn’t Reaching Many People Via Social Media In Any Category, And I Doubt That’ll Change Anytime Soon.

By Brian Hendrix

Do you follow MSHA on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter? Are you Facebook friends with MSHA? Have you downloaded MSHA’s “Miner Safety and Health App”?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you are one of the few. How do I know that? Am I just assuming that miners aren’t social, aren’t technologically savvy? No, not at all. That’s not it. Am I assuming that miners actually have real work to do and, consequently, aren’t as likely to waste time scrolling through social media posts?

That’s a fair assumption, but that’s not it either. I know that very few of you follow MSHA on social media because MSHA has a grand total of 3,400 followers on X and 516 Facebook followers. Is that good? That depends on what MSHA is hoping to accomplish via social media. Let’s start with MSHA’s app.

MSHA’s App
MSHA’s app is available for no additional charge on Android and iPhone devices. MSHA claims that 15,000 people downloaded the app as of late August 2023. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but that’s five times the number of MSHA’s followers on X. Not bad.

I downloaded it. I’m not the target audience for the app, but I was not impressed. Overall, MSHA’s app is light as a feather on substantive content. Like MSHA’s social media posts, it offers very simple, very obvious safety tips. If you’re looking for an MSHA Safety Alert, you’ll find it there. The “Health Topics” section is probably the best of what’s on offer, but it’s not deep or particularly detailed.

MSHA is a regulatory enforcement agency tasked with enforcing compliance with Title 30 of the Code of Federal Regulations, but you won’t find a copy of 30 CFR on the app. Also missing are MSHA’s Program Policy Manual, Program Policy Letters, MSHA Handbooks, etc. Like I said, MSHA’s app is light on substantive content.

Social Media
MSHA joined Twitter or created an account in October 2016, but it appears that it didn’t post or tweet anything until January 2017. That’s the earliest post I could find, and it could’ve taken MSHA a few months to draft, review and finalize a post limited to just 140 characters.

Since then, MSHA has posted or tweeted 2,600 messages, an average of about one a day. That means MSHA is an active user. The average user posts a few times a month, so MSHA is better than average. That’s something.

MSHA has approximately 1,800 full time employees. There are roughly 290,000 miners in this country. The National Mining Association estimates mining is directly or indirectly responsible for 1,200,000 jobs.

Some of MSHA’s 3,400 Twitter (X) followers aren’t miners. I don’t know the exact number or percentage, but I follow MSHA on Twitter, and I’m not a miner. My father was a miner, and I’ve spent my career representing the mining industry, but poor life choices lead me to a career in law.

In any case, let’s just assume that MSHA’s followers on X are miners. Let’s also assume that they are all American miners. I know the web or internet is world-wide, and social media leaches into the farthest reaches of world, but we’re simplifying here to juice up MSHA’s theoretical reach. If all of MSHA’s followers on X were American miners, MSHA might be reaching 1.17% via social media. I say “might be reaching” because a post may not reach or be see or read by all the followers of an account.

What this means is that, if the purpose of MSHA’s social media presence (and the resources that it devotes to maintaining that presence) is to reach miners, it has a lot of work to do. MSHA’s not reaching more than a handful of miners via social media.

What Does MSHA Post?
Announcements. Safety tips, focusing on the obvious. Fatality Reports and Safety Alerts. Remembrances of mining disasters. MSHA is big on mining disasters. Here’s a sample of the posts from January:

MSHA employees who were on the scene of the Sago and Aracoma mine disasters recall their experiences and how those events shaped the MINER Act and helped improve #MineSafety

This was posted on Jan. 19, with a link to an article on the legacy of the Sago and Aracoma disasters. On Jan. 18, MSHA posted:

ICYMI, we’ve issued a final rule aimed at safeguarding miners against accidents, injuries and fatalities related to surface mobile equipment. Learn more about it here:

Good information to have, but 49 people saw it.

Today, we reflect on the Almy No. 4 Mine explosion that occurred on January 12, 1886, claiming the lives of 11 men and 2 boys. This tragic event serves as a solemn reminder of mining’s inherent dangers and underscores the critical importance of maintaining safety in the industry.

A grand total of 79 people (including me) viewed that post.

Self-promotion is a hallmark of social media. In that context, next post on Jan.18, makes some sense:

In mining, knowledge is safety. Stay ahead with MSHA’s latest safety news by following us on Facebook and Twitter. #MineSafety

Does this mean you won’t “stay ahead with MSHA’s latest safety news” by following MSHA on X? Does the content MSHA posts to Facebook differs all that much from the content it posts to X? I don’t think so. Perhaps one of the 37 other people who viewed this post on X can tell us?

The next post, from Jan. 17, was viewed by more people (641 including me) than all of the posts above, combined:

#WinterSafety Tip

Examinations are your first line of defense, especially after each rain, freeze or thaw:

  • Check highwalls, benches and roadways
  • Examine equipment for exhaust leaks
  • Maintain equipment to operate safely in cold weather

MSHA posts several “winter safety tips” a month during the season. The fifth and final post on MSHA’s timeline, from Jan. 15, covers another mining disaster:

Today marks 146 years since a carbureted hydrogen gas explosion took place at Potts Colliery in Schuylkill County, PA, tragically claiming the lives of five men. As we remember them, we reaffirm our commitment to emphasizing the importance of safety in the mining industry.

This post tallied 162 views.

What does this sample of posts tell us about MSHA’s goal for its social media accounts? I’ll leave that to you to answer. To be clear, my purpose here isn’t to criticize MSHA for having a social media presence or actively posting. Most agencies have a social media presence, and MSHA is doing what’s expected of it (and the Department of Labor may require it).

OSHA’s X account has 10 times the followers than MSHA’s, but OSHA regulates many more employers than MSHA. X’s user base skews young and male, so MSHA may be hoping to reach miners in those categories. Right now, it isn’t reaching many people via social media in any category, and I doubt that’ll change anytime soon.

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].

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