|Brett Harvey of Consol Mining speaks before the mine commission.|
The Utah Mine Safety Commission met in Salt Lake on Jan. 3. Chairman Scott Matheson welcomed everyone to the meeting saying he was excited about the meeting as it had a strong agenda. Commission member David Litvin requested a moment to speak about an editorial which said he was a shield for the mining industry. Litvin, president of the Utah Mining Association, said it is the purpose of their organization to protect the interests of the state as they pertain to mining. They are advocates for the mining industry, but not shields.
The first presenter was J. Brett Harvey, President of Consol Mining. Harvey began his presentation by publicly giving condolences to the families of the miners who lost their lives at Crandall Canyon. Consol is the largest bituminous coal producer with 20 mines in five states. They employ 8,000 people. Harvey said he knows it"s the commission"s job to inquire into mine safety. Crandall Canyon was a high profile accident. He said it is not unwarranted to look into the accident. But, as the commission goes about its work it is important to keep in mind since 1975 mine fatalities have been greatly reduced. In 2006, fatalities climbed. "Despite this tragedy, the numbers are down. Don"t let the fact that this was a high profile incident obscure the fact that the total injury rate is low. The coal industry has a better safety record than a lot of industries and is far ahead of other countries. China has 13 people die per day. Consol"s safety record is better than the national average. But, in human terms, Consol had 236 injuries in 2006. We can improve, if we improve by 50 percent, we would still have 118 injured and that is unacceptable. The only acceptable number for injuries is zero. The same holds true for the mining industry. We can no longer run our business with an inherent number of accidents. It needs to be zero," said Harvey.
Harvey said in addition to laws and compliance there is a need for a safety culture. He asked the commission not to recommend laws or changes based solely on Crandall Canyon. There are 700 mines throughout the United States. Lessons from one mine do little because all mines are different. Laws don"t guarantee safety. Do not assume that laws equate safety.
Harvey said his safety people spend a lot of time with compliance and accompanying inspectors. He would rather his safety people spend time observing employees. Harvey said in his experience two agencies doing the same thing are not effective. Utah doesn"t have a state inspection program. West Virginia where they have mines, does have a state program. Both of these states have recently had mine disasters resulting in loss of life. "Some say an extra set of eyes are better," said Harvey.
Harvey contends that safety comes from a well trained miner. "Safety is up to everyone." Safety is not just limited to compliance with the law, that is only one element. Trained employees help prevent accidents. New technology can create a new safety paradigm. "Mining companies are reluctant to invest millions in unproven technology. "In our mines we have tested technology. Some of the communications technology is not reliable. All mines are different. Don"t mandate unproven technology. But, don"t use that as an excuse to do nothing. Use technology to advance safety.
"Even with the application of the best technology, mine accidents will occur unless we address the culture of safety. At Consol we hold everyone responsible to work safely. At Consol, safety trumps production, safety trumps all profits and procedures. Our employees can stop the normal course of operation if safety is compromised. We need to change the culture. Employees have the right to interrupt work in the name of safety. Customers are better served by buying coal from a safety oriented company. Employees must have the tools they need to be a safe contributor to the mine. We need to encourage our employees to root out any behavior that leads to accidents," said Harvey.
The real reason a culture of safety is needed is to ensure miners come home safely. Zero accidents is important and needs to be a realty for miners.
"There is room for the government to be part of safety. But, I am not na"ve enough to think greater fines will work," said Harvey.
Compliance and safety are not necessarily synonymous. The government has a role, but not the sole role. Harvey said in his opinion it was a mistake to do away with the Bureau of Mines. He believes the government has a place in innovation, training and technology.
Harvey said it is his goal to be a part of the generation who eliminates accidents. Every generation of miners has made safety better and an attitude of safety needs to be developed.