Aggregate producers reflect on ‘One MSHA’ initiative

By |  April 12, 2019

The following transcripts were edited from two concurrent discussions at this year’s Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference.

Aggregate producers are raising concerns as MSHA merges coal inspectors with the metal/nonmetal mining sector. Photo by Kevin Yanik

Aggregate producers are raising concerns as MSHA merges coal inspectors with the metal/nonmetal mining sector. Photo by Kevin Yanik

P&Q: David Zatezalo is now more than a year into his tenure as assistant secretary of the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA). What are some of the notable changes you’ve seen on the front lines of aggregate operations? Is there a noticeable change in tone at MSHA these days compared with the agency under the previous administration? Additionally, with about 1,100 coal mines operating in the United States and nearly 12,000 metal/nonmetal mines across the nation, MSHA is taking steps to consolidate inspectors under one umbrella. What are your thoughts on the agency’s “One MSHA” initiative, which has already seen at least 90 mines transition from one field office’s jurisdiction to another?

Mike Newton (Fisher Sand & Gravel): We really haven’t seen changes to speak of whatsoever. Our safety director is taken aback by the fact that coal inspectors are coming in to metal/nonmetal. That worries him greatly.

Dana Boyd (NALC): The bad thing about the government is they’ll try to relocate and reallocate. But hey, if we don’t need those inspectors, we don’t need them. I’m sorry. They can find something else or go back to industries they came from. I totally agree with the concept of being lean and mean on the government side.

According to Jason Emch of The Shelly Company/CRH, equipment suppliers who are MSHA trained– and who carry this proof on them –are easier to do business with. Photo by PamElla Lee Photography

According to Jason Emch of The Shelly Company/CRH, equipment suppliers who are MSHA trained– and who carry this proof on them –are easier to do business with. Photo by PamElla Lee Photography

One of the things we see in Indiana: We have virtually two field offices that actually cover Indiana for MSHA metal/nonmetal. The district office for coal is located in our state, as well. We’re having a major influx of those coal inspectors, and when those inspectors come in, you actually have to educate the inspector.

The weird little discrepancy we’re seeing as far as the testing process is the parameters dealing with health are totally different. They’re looking at different aspects – the electrical side of things and the test lines: There are totally different laws being applied here.

These inspectors literally want to stop operations and get clarification. So we’ve had to actually draw down on a couple of them. [I’ll say,] ‘I’m sorry, but you’re out of line here. Show me what you’re talking about.’

My personal opinion is if you do get one of those inspectors, stand strong. Know what you’re talking about.

I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of operations that have never had citations. But where we’re at, we’re seeing the influx of the coal inspectors, and it’s becoming a full-time job for some of the safety directors to go back and contest – especially with some of the issues going on right now.

I know senior administration MSHA is allowing more opportunity to conference now than what they have in the past, so we see that change before we’ve been shut out.

Ross Duff (Duff Quarry): I could not agree with you more. We’re in west central Ohio, and it’s a lot more of the same as what you’ve seen.

Hammett Gravel Co.’s Tripp Hammett says communication between MSHA and the aggregate industry has noticeably improved of late. Photo by PamElla Lee Photography.

Hammett Gravel Co.’s Tripp Hammett says communication between MSHA and the aggregate industry has noticeably improved of late. Photo by PamElla Lee Photography.

We have had a couple of coal inspectors come up from Virginia. They were in awe at a metal/nonmetal open pit limestone quarry. To be able to have to explain what you do to a government agent that is supposed to be the authority on how you operate your business was quite interesting.

Right now, the MSHA numbers are at the second-lowest deaths that we’ve had in history, and that’s fantastic. But could you use the funds that are being used for the excess coal inspectors and put that into education? You would make the agency so much more relevant if you had quality, standardized education materials. It would be amazing. You would be able to train your next generation of miners and have lower deaths.

The opportunity presents itself with MSHA. To be able to have a standard of education or relevant training materials that you get on – their website is deplorable. There is no YouTube channel. There’s no Instagram feed. I know in this room that may not be a big deal. But to kids that are 18, 19 years old, that’s what they look at.

You don’t do applications in the paper anymore. It’s all Facebook. They can apply online. That’s what we do, and we have adapted.

But if we can somehow take the funds and resources and shift them over to education, I’m certain you would have a lot less incidents, injuries, accidents and deaths. I’m really hopeful with the new administration that they would be open to it, but [I’m] doubtful.

Headshot: Bill Doran, Ogletree Deakins


Bill Doran (Ogletree Deakins): If you look at the first two budgetary cycles they’ve had under the Trump administration, they follow the same sort of cookie-cutter budgetary process, and it’s all focused on enforcement.

If you look at inspection hours on the coal side, they’ve dropped dramatically because coal mines [are] closing down. The ultimate budget number for MSHA has pretty much stayed the same. So it’s not like it’s dropped inspections. They still have the same number of inspections. So it’s really got to be sort of a structural rework for the agency.

Right now, I don’t know that there’s a lot of buy-in on the idea that they need to sort of think about different things. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen in this administration. This is the time to really focus that attention.

That said, the one caveat is the agency is going to start getting a lot of pushback from the other end saying they (MSHA) are not doing enough

The following transcript was edited from a concurrent Pit & QuarryRoundtable & Conference discussion.

Headshot: Hal Williford, Memphis Stone & Gravel Co.


Hal Williford (Memphis Stone & Gravel Co.): The only small change I have seen is from the enforcement perspective to more of an educational [perspective], especially the workplace exam. Some of the inspectors have come out and said, ‘Hey, this is what’s coming about. We would like to help you with this and give some examples.’ They’re trying to educate some of our miners, especially our foremen and our safety professionals. [They’re saying,] ‘This is what’s coming about and this is the best way to be proactive and get ready for this,’ which is refreshing to promote safety and save lives instead of enforcement where if you don’t do this, you are going be fined.

Tripp Hammett (Hammett Gravel Co.): I agree with Hal that communication is much better with MSHA. We’ve seen our inspections are more consistent – way more consistent than they were. I have a little bit more optimistic take on MSHA right now.

Andy Blanchard (Syntron Material Handling): I have a question for the producers. We are a manufacturer. What do you need us to be thinking about to better ensure that our people who come on

Headshot: Andy Blanchard, Syntron Material Handeling


to your site to work help you succeed? What do you need us to be thinking about?

Dan Goethel (Rogers Group): They most certainly need to have the specific site training, but from a basic standpoint, if they are going to be on site for multiple days, they need to have the required Part 46 and Part 48 training. The manufacturers need to own up to that and provide that to the service technicians who are going to be at multiple sites. It’s critical, though, that they receive that site-specific training when they come on site and identify exactly the training they have accomplished.

Jason Emch (The Shelly Company/CRH): As a producer, some of the best vendors that we see are organized, to Dan’s point. Maybe a three-ring binder with proof of the MSHA paperwork and exam forms, all condensed and organized. That gives us assurance that we don’t have to go out and audit you guys to make sure you guys are covered. So, organization, thoroughness and training are what’s required.

Headshot: John Scepaniak, Wm. D. Scepaniak


John Scepaniak (Wm D. Scepaniak): I would agree with that. In years past, MSHA was viewed anytime they came on site as the traffic cops that are here to write tickets. That would really deter our employees and almost make them nervous. They wouldn’t perform as well during the inspection.

Now, we have had multiple inspectors, even when I have been on site and during inspections, pull us aside, explain things to us, why this is wrong, why we need to change it and how to do things better. A lot of times it’s educational suggestions, and it’s been very helpful for us.

That has made our employees change their perspective. They are more optimistic, and then when the inspector shows up, it’s not everybody run and hide. It’s more of ‘he’s here to help,’ and it’s been beneficial for us in terms of safety.

I would agree in terms of consistency, too. In years past, we had a great variance of what was emphasized, what was a citable infraction and what wasn’t. That has been more standardized. To say we are getting much more consistency – and I don’t know if that’s a trickle-down effect from some of the administrative changes or whatnot – but that’s something we are seeing throughout the various work regions.

Goethel: We’ve seen a definite shift in the level of cooperation from MSHA and in the industry. There seems to be a very good dichotomy there in communication via NSSGA (the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association) driving some of those dialogues and the industry accepting and working with MSHA individually. But also, let’s not lose site of the fact that we’ve had record years of low injury rates. So there seems to be a pretty positive attitude in a relationship there that wants to continue down that path. Has there been a shift from one administration to the next? Absolutely. Who gets the credit for that? I think it’s a combination of MSHA, the industry, the trade groups and the agency [and] associations.

Headshot: Michael Johnson, NSSGA


Michael Johnson (NSSGA): MSHA is at its core an enforcement agency. We push them all the time to do more compliance assistance, and it’s really something that I think they struggle with, reconciling the role of being an enforcement agency with compliance assistance.

We pushed hard at NSSGA to get the small mines office refunded and have money dedicated to small mines outreach. Those are the guys that typically need the most help in compliance. With all the good that’s going on there, they are not necessarily there to revitalize small mines, because they struggle with how to balance that enforcement with compliance assistance.

P&Q: Does anyone have any thoughts on MSHA’s Scofflaw Program?

Johnson: With Scofflaw of any kind, bad operators of any kind put a black eye [on the industry]. So anything they can do to address those issues is good for all of us. Because when people at home read things in the paper about our industry, it’s usually those bad actors – not the people in this room and not the members of NSSGA that are in those stories. The fewer of those people and the fewer of those stories, the better we will be.

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