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Front Page » October 23, 2007 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Vi, Utah Min...
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Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Vi, Utah Mine Safety Commission Meets in Price

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Jake Garn speaks with Jerry Carlson from Price Mine Service.

The Utah Mine Safety Commission held their fourth meeting in Price. Their first meeting was a teleconference after the commission was formed by Utah governor, Jon Huntsman Jr. The second meeting was held at the Western Energy Training Center and the next meeting at the Huntington Elementary. The mission of the Mine Safety Commission is to look at mine safety and accident prevention and to make recommendations in that regard. Scott Matheson, chairman for the commission introduced the members of the commission which include: State Sen. Mike Dmitrich, Rep. Kay McIff, Dennis O'Dell, UMWA safety, Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon, Price Mayor Joe Piccolo, David Litvin, Utah Mining Association Of Coal Operators And Suppliers, Sen. Jake Garn along the John Baza, director of Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining.

Miles Nelson, vice president of workforce education and Dale Evans, program manager of mining technology department; both from the College of Eastern Utah were the first presenters.

Nelson explained the grant program for training involving MSHA monies. In 2003 the governor declared that UCAT would be the grant designator. The legislature merged CEU and the Applied Technology College. They would maintain the MSHA grant program.

The MSHA grant program is not a fully funded program. These grants are used for miner training and miners also pick up the cost of their training. All MSHA grants require a match. The state has been supportive from the college's standpoint. The legislature also gives funds which are put with the grant funds to add more services. One of the goals listed when applying for these grants includes bringing quality and affordable training to miners. Another goal is to improve safety in small mines and to offer training skills for the instructors.

The Labor Commission offers certification programs and testing. A portion of these grant funds go to the Labor Commission to maintain these certifications. They receive $25,000 per year.

Nelson listed one of the benefits from the training at CEU as the open entry open exit scheduling; this flexibility works well for the miners and CEU has tried to make the training schedules as flexible as possible. Competency tests make sure trainees have learned the information.

Evans said he is a third generation miner and he is lucky to have spent his career in mining since the 70s. He has worked in management for union and nonunion mines in Utah, Colorado and Nevada. He has also been involved in overseas mining and in Mexico. He sees the need for a good safety society in mining.

Classes which train the trainers and education is the key. Evans said he is a certified mine safety professional and proud to direct the department that serves the mining industry. The MSHA grant provides money for compliance training. In 2006, 1,860 miners completed this training with four part-time and two full-time instructors. Students from 16 states and 21 counties in Utah with people from England also attending the training. Of the 1,860 students, 480 people were from outside the region. The national and the state grants programs are to prevent accidents and diseases. They also offer refresher training for those already in the workforce. Nationwide this training encompasses 200,000 miners and contractors each year by providing proper and effective training.

Evans said, "We work hard to assure every miner goes home safely. Education is the tool for gaining knowledge and exercising good judgment. We work with compliance and training so miners can keep their jobs. Training under the grant includes 16 hours of surface training, 32 underground and eight hour refresher courses for all types of mining."

Training for mine rescue and fireboss are also part of the regime. They have two instructors who train the trainers. There is also a 15 week mine foreman training; electrical preparation and electrical recertification. Evans said, We will offer special course subjects to meet the operators needs. We also offer CPR and EMT courses. In addition to all the courses we hold a mine rescue tournament each year. We work closely with the Labor Commission. We work hard to ensure the miner certification is at the highest standard. We hold workshops and work with MSHA field supervisors to ensure training is done to the highest standards."

Evans said they also work with miners rights teaching them about fall protection, electrical hazards, hearing loss, respiratory, first aid, ventilation, mine gases and other known hazards. The instructors have a vast array of knowledge on a variety of subjects. The instructors will even conduct onsite trainings at the mine operators request and adapt training to site specific needs.

Evans said funding has diminished and not kept up with the times. In 1980, $6 million was split among 36 states and in 2007 $8.2 million was split between 49 states, the Navajo nation and Puerto Rico. "The piece of the pie keeps getting smaller," said Evans, "The money is not adequate. Independent trainers have picked up the slack. Many of these trainers exceed MSHA standards. Being safe and productive starts with a well trained workforce.

Evans said simulated training for mine rescue and for electrical-fire boss certification and other areas can improve the safety so each miner can return safely at the end of the day.

Matheson thanked Nelson and Evans for their presentation. He can't imagine how that much curriculum can be delivered with just four part-time and two full-time instructors.

Other states have taken the initiative to exceed MSHA requirements. What have they done that maybe Utah should do?

Evans said in West Virginina new miners have an 80 hour training and are required to take a state test to show competency. Apprentice miners work with professional mines to enhance the quality of the miners. Additional certification and refresher courses are also required.

Evans said it is a struggle to keep up with the amount of law changes and transfer that knowledge to the miners.

Matheson wondered how the working relationship with WETC was evolving. Nelson said they have a responsibility to work with WETC and bring the three entities together. They are currently in the process of moving their offices to the WETC facility which will facilitate working together and developing curriculum.

Matheson wondered about collaboration with the mine operators to customize training and how effective company provided training is?

Evans said MSHA encourages the operators to use the state grants program to assist operators with the training. Quality training and instructors to assist with this training are a must. The trainers will travel to the mine site where specific hazards can be addressed. This is especially important for refresher training. Site specific training is very important.

Matheson said they have heard from a number of presenters about the conditions of Utah mining being different than anywhere else. Do you have any recommendations on enhanced training to address conditions other states don't have?

Evans said we have the best experts in the world in our retired miners and it would be a mistake to overlook the contribution these miners can make as committees are formed and training enhanced. "These miners have been through it, we need to collaborate with them to come up with training courses," said Evans.

Sen. Dmitrich said he is happy the CEU mining department is moving to the WETC facility. He wondered about an advisory committee with coal operators. Nelson said they had an active community committee around the time of the merger and they are interested in getting that going again.

Sen. Dmitrich also wondered about the testing. Evans said it is a competency based training and you go through the interactive training and must complete each 10 question module with 80 percent accuracy. The refresher courses are mostly lecture based to bring in the new trends in the industry. "If we had people dedicated to competency based training it would be more effective and we would have more effective and well trained employees," said Evans.

Dmitrich said funding needs to be looked at for these training courses. Evans said MSHA selects the subjects that have to be covered and that includes all the minimum requirements and the Center can add to it. This basic training must be done with a MSHA approved instructor and the testing is included.

Dmitrich wondered about unified training. Evans said they will need to work with the legislature for additional money for training. Dmitrich said he will support any legislation along these lines for funding for training.

Litvin recognized the importance of one central and unified training center. He is glad to hear things are going well on the development of this center. He sees coordination between mine operators and trainers being crucial in the development of new miners. What are the needs of mine operators? Make sure it is a continued effort. It doesn't do any good to have training that is not pertinent to the situation. We have a unique situation. What education needs do we have? Litvin sees something missing and that is the culture of working safely. Putting safety first and the importance of working safely must be put first. "Is that being done?" questioned Litvin.

Evans said they wish to include professionalism and responsibility in training. Miners are responsible for their own safety as well as those that work with and for them.

Litvin said this safety culture must include all the workers and not just the supervisors. There must be a work ethic and culture to put safety first.

Evans said they do put emphasis on miner rights and believe the individual miner is the most important asset. The psychology of safety should be included as part of training.

Evans said 24 of Utah's 29 counties have some type of mining. This includes 8,000 miners and contractors that need training. The funds aren't available to do this.

Litvin wondered what an estimate of the funds required would be to train and replace retiring miners.

Evans said in the next 10 years the older miners will be retiring and the younger miners will need to take their place. This is a crisis and something needs to be done now. Education needs to be directly involved.

WETC is developing longer term certifications for those reer and obtain a degree.

Gordon wondered what the cost of the simulator trainers would be. Nelson said they are a broad price range, but very expensive, a basic simulator can be purchased and components added as funding becomes available. This type of training could be very advantageous to the mine operators. Miners could be trained on properly setting timbers and learn how to operate equipment outside the actual mine.

Brad King, vice president of student advancement at CEU and also a state legislator along with Bob Topping, the program director for WETC spoke to the mine commission next.

King said he thinks there are three areas where a difference really can be made. Technology and training can lead to safe practices. CEU is a partner with industry and government to make a difference. King said CEU has developed a scholarship fund for the miners families and $19,000 to date has been donated to assure the miners families can address their educational goals.

Topping said he has been at the WETC for a year now. Workforce development is his focus. He worked for 26 years in construction infrastructure and has a vast background. He was approached by WETC to be a part of this process to develop the energy training center and what better place than Utah which is an epicenter for energy. We need to be innovative and develop our rural economic development, we need to bring new talent in and retain those we do have. We need to attract talent while utilizing the existing talent. We need to create world class skills while being competitive and safe. Seventy percent of the energy workforce is getting ready to retire. We need to understand the methods and what it takes to be safe. We are going to lose 70 percent of our workers in the next 10 years. How are we going to develop those needed skills in the coming up group. There is a performance gap. Education, industry and government must work together on training and that training must be flexible and specific workforce training. Since the mid 80s fatalities have gone down, but are now going up. We need to take a broader approach. Training provided at WETC addresses universal skill sets. As workers move from site to site they are quantifiable. Exactly what are those skill sets, WETC has defined those skill sets and degree programs will be developed along those lines. People need to understand what it takes to be safe. This strategy is based on hands-on experience and a situation based learning program. As new workers are brought in, their skills must be tapped into. Topping also emphasized the process of training with simulators and their effectiveness. By putting miners in virtual environments with training conducted by seasoned workers great strides can be made. These simulators can be obtained as soon as money becomes available.

Topping said in an effort to educate others about the energy industry they participated in a super tour where elementary and high school teachers were taken to various energy producing sites and taught the basics. This type of energy literacy can attract new talent to the industry.

Topping envisions WETC as a world class model to assist energy and attract new talent. Infrastructure will have to be established so we can attract, retain and advance new workers and bring in new families to the area.

Matheson said he appreciated Toppings commitment and expertise.

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