NMA’s Innovative Mine Safety Measures Stymied by Outdated Enforcement

Washington, D.C. – Innovative new safety measures pioneered by the U.S. mining industry are stymied by an outdated regulatory enforcement model from a unwieldy federal bureaucracy, a mine safety expert told a congressional panel today.

Bruce Watzman, Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs at the National Mining Association (NMA), said the industry “has an opportunity to drive further improvement in mine safety but not in the enforcement environment that exists today.”

In testimony before the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee, Watzman explained that innovative industry programs are making improvements, lifting the industry to a higher level of safety performance. An example is CORESafety®, a safety and health management system launched by NMA that was recently hailed by a former federal government health and safety official as “a game changing” approach to safer mining. CORESafety seeks to prevent accidents before they happen by helping operators identify at-risk conditions, practices and behaviors that lead to accidents. Such preventative measures have a better chance of reducing fatalities and serious injuries than focusing solely on conditions irrespective of the risks they pose.

But these initiatives often run afoul of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) dogged attachment to past policies, said Watzman. Contrary to the new approaches needed to advance mine safety, Watzman called MSHA’s enforcement initiatives “a reactive approach to safety management that has had limited success and will not get us to zero fatalities.”

MSHA sometimes prematurely promulgates regulations that impose technology requirements in advance of the necessary research, misallocates its enforcement resources and encourages wasteful adjudicatory procedures by indiscriminately citing operators for violations that bear little correlation to mine accidents.

“MSHA remains affixed to a model where today it is not uncommon for multiple inspectors to be on-site every day. This is unnecessary and counter-productive,” said Watzman. Despite a dramatic change in the mining industry in the past five years and an 18 percent drop in the number of mines to inspect, MSHA’s budget over this period actually swelled by double-digits. “The reduced number of mines provides an opportunity to reevaluate how MSHA allocates its resources and how the resources are applied,” said Watzman.

“Enforcement is important,” Watzman said. “But to modernize and improve safety performance we have to move beyond a model based strictly on enforcement. To truly modernize mine safety we have to develop a performance structure based on a risk-based approach that establishes higher standards, engages employees and encourages cooperation.”
For further information on NMA’s innovative CORESafety system, see http://www.coresafety.org/