P&Q Profile: Mulzer Crushed Stone’s Matt Bunner

By |  November 20, 2017


Managing a safety program with 550 miners and transportation employees, Matt Bunner has dedicated the last 17 years of his career to Mulzer Crushed Stone. Bunner, the safety manager at Mulzer Crushed Stone who is a recipient of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s James M. Christie Safety & Health Professional of the Year award, serves six quarries as well as several other Mulzer sites.

P&Q: How did you make your way into the aggregate industry?

Bunner: I went to Western Kentucky University and took a direction in occupational safety and health. After graduating, I went to work in the general industry. I saw an opportunity to get into the mining side of things with Mulzer back in 2000. Mulzer has a small operation in my hometown, so I was familiar with the company ever since I can remember.

When I came here, it was a completely different set of regulations. I learned how the federal government (Mine Safety & Health Administration) runs compared to the state OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration). You may only see a state OSHA inspector once or twice in a lifetime because the state of Indiana only has four OSHA inspectors who cover every business. So they may only get to one or two businesses a week.

When I came to Mulzer, it was probably three weeks before the first MSHA inspector showed up. I’ve never stopped learning.

P&Q: After 17 years at Mulzer, what are you still learning on the job?

Bunner manages a safety program with 550 miners and transportation employees. Photos courtesy of Matt Bunner.

Bunner: Well, there’s always a new interpretation of the law. With MSHA, a lot of regulations were written in the late 1960s or early 1970s. As technology changes, equipment changes and people change but the regulations often stay the same.

I don’t see the current administration being as strong on regulations and writing as many citations as the past administration. But that doesn’t mean 20 years down the road when you get another administration that is regulatory strong that they can’t redefine the regulation and then use it as a way to write more citations.

The example I use: If a hazard exists, an MSHA inspector will write a citation based on that citation existing. Now, with the workplace exams regulation, that gives the freedom to an inspector to also write a citation based on a person not doing a good job with a workplace exam. So you could get multiple citations on a single hazard.

And you can take that even one step further: If I write down on my workplace exam sheet that I found three conditions this morning and that I fixed them, an MSHA inspector could technically say you have three things listed that could be cited. I’m not a fan of the way that was done, and I don’t see anyone willing to step up and rewrite the whole rule.

If you look at regulations overall, MSHA’s regulations are based largely on unsafe conditions. Ninety-five percent of mine operators across the country comply with those conditions. There may be a few bad apples out there, but I think everybody tries to control that unsafe condition. The Mine Act, however, doesn’t take into play the behavior or personality of people; the unsafe act.

I can guard something to the hill and know that it’s guarded to compliance. But that doesn’t mean people having a bad day can’t potentially injure themselves. It’s the people side of things that regulations don’t cover.

P&Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?

Photo courtesy of Matt Bunner

Bunner finds it most challenging to teach supervisors and miners what a regulation means when the regulation is always evolving.

Bunner: Teaching supervisors and miners what a regulation means when the regulation is always evolving. Take lids on trash cans. This was written so you wouldn’t have bees, wasps and other critters hurting you; it shouldn’t be meant for a restroom or an office. MSHA regulations are minimums and serve as minimum requirements, and they should remain the baseline – not a moving target.

The two things that go into regulations are who’s in office politically, but also mine-related disasters. One fatality is too many. But if you compare us to other industries – especially comparing the mining industry to 100 years ago – we are a safe industry. I was told in a recent safety conference that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mining injury rates fall between an elementary school teacher and a grocery clerk by occupation, and that is probably accurate based on our numbers.

But go out and ask Joe Public, and they see mining as a dangerous job. They’d list it up there with deep-sea fishermen or the ax man chopping down large timber. We’re not anywhere near that.

P&Q: With the available labor pool changing, how do you see that affecting the state of safety in our industry?

Bunner: Go back to 1970 and 1980. You have generation after generation of workers who come to a mine company because their dad or grandpa did. In the last 10 years, we have hired more people who are brand new to the industry. There’s a total learning curve of what mining is. We have to teach them safety but also to be good communicators to the public.

Someone who is 22 years of age today learns differently. The typical 22-year-old texts and doesn’t want to make eye contact. The typical 62-year-old says to look at me when I’m talking to you. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old is looking down at their phone saying, “Yeah, I’m listening.”

When I started here, we had very few people in their early 20s. I would say we have 50 percent of our company with more than 10 years of experience in the company. But that’s changing because people in their 60s are hanging it up. Last year, we retired 500 or 600 years of service across 25 to 30 people. That’s tough to lose when you do the math.

P&Q: Because you’re transitioning to hiring more young people these days, do you take any new or innovative approaches to train them?

Bunner: When we do new miner orientation, we look at age demographic and where they’re from as a baseline of how we’re going to conduct our training. We send them out to a location and put them with an ambassador, whose job is to touch base with them for three or four weeks. This is someone who makes them feel welcome and answers the questions that some people are afraid to ask in a classroom environment.

A trainer will train them in tasks. We’ve given authority to trainers that if they are not confident the person can do their job, whether because of production, safety or quality, they’re supposed to make a phone call indicating that more time is needed.

A person might not cut it in two days for a job. In some cases, maybe you take a week to see if they can get it. If after a week we don’t feel that is the right spot for somebody, we try to move them into a position that can accommodate them.

P&Q: What else about Mulzer’s safety approaches are unique?

Bunner: We have one person we’ve dedicated as an equipment trainer. Anyone task trained on a job will see a follow-up from this trainer, who tests new hires to verify the task training they had is adequate. He’s a verification process of our task training.

Also, we incorporate games and challenges into classroom training. Competition seems to work really well with the younger generation. We’ve developed all types of games over the years.

A good example of one: You’re teaching a class on a topic that hasn’t been changed since the 1970s, like miners’ rights. We incorporate questions into that class, and if they answer questions correctly we have a video game system where they can fish on breaks. Whoever catches the biggest fish at the end of the new training class wins a prize. This creates a competition between employees, whether it’s a new miner class or an annual refresher. It becomes something they want to focus on so they can participate in games or activities.

Most people do hazard safety jeopardy. We’ve kicked that up a notch with a PowerPoint. We also have games involving NASCAR, basketball and other sports.

P&Q: CRH, the parent company of Oldcastle Materials, recently acquired Mulzer. Does that synergy create opportunities to enhance safety further?

Bunner: They’ve worked well with us on safety. There are some things they do differently from us. We’ve taken it one piece at a time. We’ve done cross auditing between facilities. Some of the other Oldcastle properties in our region have come to see our processes, and we’ve gone out to learn some things about their practices. It’s been a good challenge. I see it as an opportunity to share resources and raise the “safety bar.”

Five things

First job – I was hired right out of college as safety assistant manager for a large food manufacturing company, from groundbreaking, through construction and into the startup. The large global corn flour company used ball and hammer mills, and crushing processes similar to mining.
Hobbies – I spend my free time barbequing and smoking meats. It is my second passion behind safety. I consider myself a pit master, but like safety there are a lot of things to learn. Never quit learning. I also serve on my local school board and several civic boards. Also, gardening and homesteading.
Books – My top five books: the Bible; “Good to Great” by Jim Collins; “Like a Rock” by Andy Stanley; “Start” by Dave Ramsey; and “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt.
Social media – I use them all for work, home, and play: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram. All are great tools for safety and my other hobbies.
Sports –I was born a Dodgers fan in three generations of Dodgers fans.

Comments are closed