Making MSHA a partner and not an adversary

By |  September 7, 2012

Joe Main, assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), sat down with Pit & Quarry by phone late last month to reflect on his three years at MSHA. We asked Main how aggregate producers, manufacturers and MSHA can work better together to make relationships, which sometimes seem so adversarial, more like partnerships.

“I’ve tried to bring a philosophy of working with people to achieve safer mines,” Main says. “From the outset, I began to have a lot of discussions with folks in the mining community; folks at the national level; the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA); and other key players. But I branched out pretty quickly, meeting with the state aggregate associations. We’ve been doing that since I arrived here.”

Main says communication is at the core of his approach as MSHA’s assistant secretary of labor. He believes having open exchanges with producers, sharing what MSHA is doing and exactly why it is implementing something has brought more accountability to an agency that lacked a confirmed secretary for five years before he arrived.

MSHA is also more accountable for its actions these days, Main says, because today’s inspectors have more experience than the inspectors who served in the field just three years ago. Main points to the supervisor program initiated in 2010 following the Upper Big Branch tragedy as another sign that today’s inspectors are more consistent.

“Half of our inspector staff had two years or fewer than two years of experience,” he says. “As somebody who’s managed programs, that made me realize I had to get some management programs in place fairly quickly.”

Main says he also recognized it was vital for producers to have an avenue where they can better communicate with MSHA. Implementing a conferencing process to reduce the backlog of cases has provided an opportunity to improve dialogue, he says.

“We implemented a pilot program where instead of waiting for a mine operator to file a contested case, they can request a conference at the district level,” Main says. “We’ve had about eight months now of that being in operation, and the early sign I’ve seen is that it is working.”

Look for Pit & Quarry’s complete interview with Main in an upcoming issue.

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