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Producers discuss ‘One MSHA’ initiative, mine inspections

By |  June 16, 2020

The following transcripts were edited from two concurrent discussions Jan. 15 at the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. Both conversations were edited for brevity and clarity.


P&Q: The industry is entering its third full year under Mine Safety & Health Administration Assistant Secretary (MSHA) David Zatezalo, who continues to drive the reorganization of the agency under his “One MSHA” initiative. The reorganization has impacted a number of regions, including states like North Carolina, which is reportedly now under the jurisdiction of three MSHA districts: 5, 7 and the Southeast. From a producer perspective, how has your experience with MSHA varied, if at all, as the agency’s “One MSHA” initiative has continued? Have you seen an influx of longtime coal inspectors to your region, and has the nature of what you expect in a typical inspection changed under the ‘One MSHA’ initiative?

Clyde Beckett headshot

Beckett

CLYDE BECKETT (SEMINOLE TRIBE OF FLORIDA/BIG CYPRESS ROCK MINE): As a producer, with all of the changes, on the last couple of inspections we’ve had, we haven’t found any difference in the way that they have inspected us. We have a pretty good relationship with them.

As long as you get that relationship with them, they know you’re not trying to hide something. We sort of give them that free range. We’re with them the whole time, but there is no off-limit area, so they’re able to check everything out.

We always welcome [them], and I have my guys do the same thing. They’re giving you some input, and it seems to help with the way that our actual inspections go.

KAREN HUBACZ-KILEY (BOND CONSTRUCTION CORP.): I will echo what Clyde had to say. [At] our local offices out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, there are no coal mines. I haven’t had any experience with anybody that has done coal.

There have been some from western Ohio who have come in to help fill in because there’s a lot of local small producers, so there’s a lot of coverage that they need to do. Obviously they don’t tell you they’re coming, but if I’m there I always escort the inspector personally. I haven’t had any issues.

I think a lot of it is [this]: What happens when they first come into your operation is going to set the whole precedent for how they treat you, and I welcome them. Is it convenient? No. So everything I had planned – meetings or what have you – that’s gone. So I welcome them to Bond.

Sometimes I know them, sometimes I don’t. But they’ve already read the report from the last inspection. They know what they’re going to be up against, so my whole thing is you welcome them. They should be treated as a guest who wants to see your facility. If you welcome them that way, [you can ask] what would you like to start with? Do you want to start with paperwork? Do you want to walk the plant now? That sets the whole tone for your inspection.

Keaton Turner headshot

Turner

KEATON TURNER (TURNER MINING GROUP): I 100 percent agree with what Karen said.

For us, being a contractor, we’re typically sitting ducks [and] easy targets for MSHA inspectors. We have Part 46 and Part 48 employees because we service clients on both sides, and so I think one of the real challenges we have [is] we’ll get a Part 48 inspector come onto a Part 46 site where we’re operating as Part 46, but we have some Part 48 employees there, and they treat it totally different.

Whether that’s right or wrong, in 2019 I think we had 10 citations total on a half-million manhours worked. Eight of those were probably paperwork citations.

It’s different for each region. You get an inspector looking at the rules one way versus California, I think it’s a whole different country. The inspectors there treat us a whole lot different than the inspectors on the East Coast or from South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia. So it’s a challenge for us on the paperwork side, even though we’re doing it by the book.

You’ll have an inspector on one side of the country tell you one thing, and the exact same issue is totally different the next week with somebody else, so that’s been our experience.

Treny Carney headshot

Carney

TRENT CARNEY (ROGERS GROUP): We do have some areas that we mine that do have coal inspectors, so when ‘One MSHA’ came into play, we have seen an influx of coal inspectors coming into aggregates.

It hasn’t been drastic as far as a monumental change between the inspectors necessarily. The coal inspector, he’s a little bit more singularly focused on something that he’s familiar with, where your typical aggregate inspector maybe is a little bit more generalized. So we do see that.

But again, the coal inspectors are very knowledgeable about the rules. There are some rules that, maybe from the aggregates standpoint, aren’t looked at as specifically as they do with coal, so there is some transition. But the coal inspectors we’ve had in those areas have been really good to work with. We haven’t had any rogue inspectors or anything outlandish.

BECKETT: I think one of the biggest things, too, is with the inspectors, we normally have the same one because he’s in our area and, as said before, we welcome them. My assistant makes him a cup of coffee. He sits down, looks at the paperwork or does what he wants to do, and then we take him out.

We had a different inspector one time because I was doing some training, and his perspective on the mine was totally different – even though we treated him exactly the same way. There was just no relationship there. He was just straight down the middle, and I did the same thing: I personally took them out to look at the whole mine circuit.

If it’s something not right, I take the blame unless it is something that’s directly resulting from an employee. But that one inspector had a totally different approach to it. It’s like ‘let’s go, I need this now,’ and it was really regimental, [versus] when you have one inspector that you know.

It’s not so much that he’s lax or anything on you, but he already knows that you’re there to please him and make sure the safety is in place and everything else, which is different where you bring some of these inspectors in who know nothing about you other than maybe they read the paperwork.

HUBACZ-KILEY: Just to reiterate on what you said: I totally agree. And if it is somebody new, I’m like ‘excellent, a fresh set of eyes.’ What’s better?

And as you’re walking with them, you get to have that one-on-one conversation. I always ask: ‘Can we shut down a half-hour early? Can you take some time and talk to my miners?’ They love that because that’s what they’re all about.

So I try to let them know: ‘Look, we’re on the same page, I want everybody to always go home safe.’ If there’s something you see, you’ll point different things out. I have my phone, I take pictures. I bring a notepad with me, I make notes. We have discussions with my foremen after. And I think if you’re proactive like that and they understand you can’t have everything 110 percent all the time, and there are many times that they’ve gone through and I have not gotten citations.

Or, if I haven’t, it’s been one, and I’m out there begging them to please don’t make it S&S, and they’re willing to work with you – especially if I’m making a phone call to my loader operator: ‘Get up on that inch-and-a-half pile; the berm isn’t adequate enough,’ and that loader is up there and he fixes it immediately.

I just think it’s about follow-through. It’s about making sure that you say you’re on the same page, and it’s all about being as safe as possible.


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

Colin Oerton headshot

Oerton

COLIN OERTON (STONEPOINT MATERIALS): We have seen some changes. What we’ve done over the years is try to develop good relationships. The inspectors seem to change quite a bit, but [we] let them know that safety is important to us.

We have seen the inspectors change over from the pure agg guys to some of the coal guys. I’ve kind of heard comments [like] ‘maybe the coal guys [are] just not as up to speed on our business.’ We haven’t found that as much. We found them to be curious and courteous, and it’s actually gone quite well.

Where we have seen some of the changes: It may be [with] the guys we’ve built relationships with, as the district offices may have changed. So it’s a matter of having to go back in and develop those relationships. Building relationships will take time, but I have to say there’s nothing adverse as a result of that [redistricting] change so far. It’s just been a little different.

Chris Taylor

Taylor

CHRIS TAYLOR (NORTH AMERICAN MINING): What we’re seeing with the different inspectors is things that were accepted by previous inspections [have changed]. You bring in a different guy, and then all of a sudden the same thing that’s been fine for 10 years [is] now not as much. So the interpretation of the regulation is slightly different.

I’ve worked on both the coal side as well as the aggregate side. It’s kind of funny that they do have very different interpretations of the same exact rule. You just have to deal with that.

You go for nearly 10 years doing one thing, and we have a new inspector now. So we’re going to have to tweak that a little bit to accommodate the other inspector. It’s a little bit of a challenge.

Usually, they’ll work with you because it’s a new perspective. You might [not] get a citation necessarily, but, again, I would kind of like to see this improve. You just have to deal with that, but generally speaking it hasn’t been a huge impact overall.

Turner Mining Group’s Thomas Haun speaks at P&Q Roundtable

Says Turner Mining Group’s Thomas Haun (pictured at right): “The inspectors that we have been dealing with have been coming and are trying to learn. They haven’t been coming in just to write paper.” Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

THOMAS HAUN (TURNER MINING GROUP): I completely agree with what Chris said. It’s been an interesting shift in a lot of the reeducation. I guess that’s the way I would describe it. Obviously, we deal across multiple regions. So there are differences in kind of how things are looked at.

The inspectors that we have been dealing with have been coming and are trying to learn. They haven’t been coming in just to write paper. They’re trying to learn what our operation is doing and then kind of figuring out the best practice going forward.

So that has been a positive thing for Turner Mining Group. I guess I’ll echo Colin a little bit, as we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

DAN JOHNSON (THE CONCRETE CO.): I’m getting older, I guess, but I’ve been in the industry a long time. [At one time], I think I worked at one plant for four to five years. We had one S&S (significant and substantial) citation. Now, a lot of the things that were non-S&S for decades are all of a sudden S&S. I think there’s been this trend with MSHA [that] they’re always under pressure to write [citations] no matter what anybody says. When they come to your site, they’re supposed to write.

It’s gotten to point where they’re looking in your microwave. If your microwave is dirty, they’re going to cite you. They’re looking in your first aid cabinet. If you have expired first aid medicines, they end up citing you. They look in our refrigerator and look at the milk to see if the milk expired.

It’s not about mine safety. It’s about writing paper and, yeah, those are all non-S&S, but they write more S&S now, too. I get extremely frustrated with the direction they go because the industry has done so much to improve – and MSHA gets a lot of credit for that [with] the training programs, the documentation. But it’s gotten to the point where it’s gone overboard, and I don’t see where it’s going to get anything but worse unless something dramatic happens.


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