Shaking Up Coal Mine Safety

"It's going to take another step change in culture."

ONE year ago in this space, I invited you to read Australia's Proposed National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in General Construction because it intended to eliminate fall hazards during the design stage of structures, if possible. This month, another Australian safety success story is mentioned in our pages.

This success story involves coal mining. Dr. R. Larry Grayson, an expert who chairs a National Mining Association commission that examined mine safety technology and training following the Sago Mine disaster last January, says Australia's mine safety is the world's best. He hopes ours soon can be as good.

Occupational Health & Safety hasn't focused on mining safety, but Sago and the response to it changed that. As major mine disasters often do, Sago prompted federal and state legislation, investigations, and many recommendations. These have made underground coal mining the biggest safety topic of 2006.

My interview with Dr. Grayson begins on page 38 (and is searchable on www.ohsonline.com under the headline "Blue-Ribbon Panel Zeroes In on Culture Change"). I asked him how U.S. mining can regain its world leadership in mine safety. "It's going to take another step change in culture," he answered. "We are tremendously safer, but it's not good enough to say that. What we've got to do is take away these agonizing experiences, where people are suffering through persistent types of injuries and fatalities. In underground mines, roof falls came back and had been haunting us again. And the same thing for the fires and explosions recently. Those are the big three. And powered haulage--moving equipment. . . . Those are the persistent areas that we have to hit head-on and do some fundamental things to change the whole situation and conditions so we drive those away."

Again and again, we come back to culture. Some mining companies have superb safety records and requisite cultures sustaining them. Raising U.S. underground coal mining's culture to the pinnacle may require self-policing that forces laggards out of the business entirely, as China is doing, Grayson said. A harsh remedy, some would say, but in reality it is just, compassionate, and effective.

This column appeared in the November 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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