Taking safety beyond training mandated by MSHA

By and |  April 11, 2022
Headshots: Bill Doran and Margo Lopez

Bill Doran and Margo Lopez

The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) launched the “Take Time, Save Lives” campaign to bring attention to miner training.

The campaign emphasizes that mine operators must make time to ensure miners are properly trained and that miners take the time to remember their training before performing a task.

In nearly every safety incident, whether it involves a fatality, injury, damage to equipment or a near miss, not paying attention or taking a shortcut – or both – is usually a factor. Training is essential to ensure that miners understand the mine environment and know how to safely perform a task. Training lays the groundwork for safety, but MSHA-mandated training alone is not enough.

To provide for safety at a mine, operators will want to go beyond MSHA’s requirements.

Practical tips

Foster a work culture and work habits that enable miners to stay alert to the conditions around them and the task they are doing in that moment. And implement procedures and practices that encourage miners to remain focused on their work.

Safety campaigns and awareness training on the dangers of working while distracted can be helpful. Operators will also want to have in place an employee assistance program (EAP) to help miners with personal concerns that can lead to distracted thinking. Advertise the EAP widely and often.

Encourage miners to let supervisors know when they are not sure whether something is safe, or if they don’t remember something from their training.

Behavior-based safety programs, including those that implement a safety observation practice with immediate feedback to miners, can help to stop miners from taking safety shortcuts. Such programs can deliver a message that shortcuts go against the company’s safety culture and work rules.

Periodically change the format you use for informal training. It is human nature to become less engaged when training becomes stale. Think creatively, and come up with new ways to deliver material.

Remember, not everyone has the same learning style. While some may learn better through hearing instruction, others need to see demonstrations or other visual aids – and yet others learn best by doing.

Legal considerations

From a legal perspective, there are things you may want to do to maximize the benefits to be obtained from a good training program.

Keeping good records of all training that was done, whether it is MSHA-required or not – and whether the training is done formally or informally – can be very helpful in defending against citations later. Training in all forms can be proof of established procedures and practices, and it can reduce negligence findings by MSHA or a judge.

Good recordkeeping may include things such as sign-in sheets with the training topics or scripts attached, a schedule of training completed, notes of what was covered in training, and a copy of materials shown or used in the training.

Be observant of miners as they work, and look for indications that they are not following their training. Respond quickly if you see that happening.

Anyone in management who observes a miner working unsafely might be alleged to be legally responsible by MSHA. The longer unsafe work practices continue and the more widespread they become, the more likely they may be viewed as resulting from high negligence or unwarrantable failure. Make needed corrections in a timely manner, and conduct training to prevent a recurrence.

Be aware that MSHA tends to interpret the definition of “task” in the task training standards broadly. In preparing your plan, consider all of the tasks miners may do on a regular basis. Amend the plan to add training, as needed, as tasks change or new work practices or equipment are added to the mine’s operations.

If your operation uses pre-work assessments, you may want to do periodic monitoring to see that any procedures, equipment and tools specified in that job planning are followed and used. Failure to follow the safety plan you developed can be worse from a legal perspective than not having one at all, but more importantly, it could put someone at risk of injury.

Bill Doran and Margo Lopez are with the national labor, employment and safety law firm Ogletree Deakins.

Featured photo: P&Q Staff

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