Sunday, June 18, 2006

MSHA Appointees Failed to See The Future

Remember a long time ago, in another era, when no one paid much attention to what was happening in American coal mines, when so few miners were killed in the workplace that the media didn't even report them, and so few people had ever heard of the Mine Safety and Health Administration that you could fill it with industry hacks who knew little about how to make a coal mine safe, and no one would even notice?

In case you're having trouble remembering, a kind reader has sent me a time capsule from those long-forgotten days. It's a copy of the Society Review: A newsletter devoted to helping the world become a safer place to work, published by the International Society of Mine Safety Professionals, in Fall 2005.

The issues highighted articles by Dave Lauriski, who had recently resigned as head of MSHA, and MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary, John Correll, who is currently a very controversial nominee to head the Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining. Listening to these learned professionals discuss the state of mine safety in late 2005 is like listening to the captain of the Titanic boast of how his ship is unsinkable as it left Southampton in the Spring of 1912.

How's MSHA doing?

People have to stop talking about rates. “Whenever we have a rate, we’re basically saying it’s OK for people to get hurt.” Five years ago, who would have thought only 5 coal miners would lose their lives in the first 5 months of 2005? “That’s an incredible improvement. But it’s not enough.
Mining fatalities have dropped 40 percent in the past four years. Fatalities are on course for a 50 percent reduction in five years.

The injury decline, although not as steep, is in decline.

“We think that’s because we’re working together,” said John Correll, MSHA deputy assistant secretary. “We’ve developed a culture and collaboration. We’ve walked away from a culture of confrontation. MSHA and the industry are on the same road to ZERO accidents.
And to what do we owe this great record?

“Some people say it’s not about disciplining people,” Dave said. “Well, by golly, sometimes it is. Maybe that discipline will save somebody’s life. If you want to have ZERO, you have to have ZERO tolerance.”
Now the focus incorporates the human aspects of safety and health. “The vast majority of accidents we investigate deal with behavior,” John said. “I’m not talking about blame. I’m not talking about disciplinary action. I’m talking about why people do the things they do.”
Yeah, if only those miners at Sago -- and the other 21 who have been killed this year -- had been punished more, they'd probably be alive today.