Takeaways from the nomination of MSHA’s next chief

By |  September 12, 2017

David Zatezalo is expected to be nominated as MSHA assistant secretary of labor. Photo courtesy of the Wheeling News-Register.

The forthcoming nomination of a former coal executive for the top position at the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) comes as a bit of a disappointment for the aggregate industry.

Between coal and metal/nonmetal mining, the metal/nonmetal sector that’s comprised of aggregate producers and others is by far and away the one that makes up the majority of the mining industry MSHA regulates.

In fact, more than 90 percent of the 13,089 mines MSHA oversaw in 2016 are in the metal/nonmetal sector. Additionally, nearly 75 percent of the 318,723 miners in the industry serve the metal/nonmetal sector, according to MSHA.

Yet, a representative from the coal sector will again be leading the agency.

On the bright side for aggregate operations, David Zatezalo, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the MSHA post, has a producer’s background, albeit in coal. So Zatezalo at least has an understanding from a producing company’s standpoint of the working relationship between MSHA and the mining industry. That’s one potential plus for all operations that fall under MSHA’s purview.

Consider too that Joe Main, the agency’s last assistant secretary of labor, arrived at MSHA after a long career representing the United Mine Workers of America.

The relationship between Main’s MSHA and mine owners and operators could be described as contentious, among other things. While mining fatalities have been trending downward for years, the feeling among a number of aggregate producers is that the agency has been more like an adversary in recent times than the safety and health partner they’d like MSHA to be.

Perhaps the nomination of Zatezalo will improve the tone of the agency-industry relationship. The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), for one, is eager to find additional ways to partner with MSHA moving forward.

“Our industry has a demonstrated commitment to safety and a track record of positively working with MSHA,” says Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, NSSGA senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs. “We look forward to working with the new administrator, once confirmed.”

Although Zatezalo is expected to be at the top of the nation’s mine safety and health agency, the MSHA chief will eventually build a team of high-ranking leaders upon whom he can lean. The placement of a crushed stone, sand and gravel stakeholder on that team would be a positive takeaway for the aggregate industry.

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