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What the Grain Industry Could Learn from the Mining Business
by Bob Babin

I recently attended a Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) training seminar in Beckley, West Virginia and a Western U.S. Regional Safety Managers conference in Reno, Nevada. MSHA is the mining industry equivalent of OSHA. It covers a much smaller industry, and it does a more proactive job.

MSHA inspectors visit every surface mine site in the country at least twice a year and every underground mine site no less than four times a year. MSHA inspectors have broader power than OSHA inspectors, with the ability to cite violations seldom enforced by OSHA.

The MSHA staff is large enough to handle every operation under its jurisdiction, and inspectors develop close personal relationships with virtually every site they cover. As a result, it is not unusual to see MSHA inspectors and the safety managers from the companies they cover sitting side by side at a conference.

The relationship between MSHA and the industry it covers is probably much closer to what OSHA was originally intended to be. Certainly there is some antagonism in a handful of personal relationships but, for the most part, relationships are quite cordial.

At both conferences, the presenters focused on employee training. Each meeting had well over 300 safety managers in attendance, and I never heard a single negative comment about MSHA in the three days each conference lasted. The more I thought about this, the more impact it had on me. These people really like each other and they share a common purpose.

These people really like each other and they share a common purpose.

When an MSHA inspector notices an unsafe practice or an unsafe piece of equipment at a site, he or she discusses the issue in detail with the safety manager and tries to help the facility correct the issue. This is practiced rather than just writing up the facility for the violation which, of course, also is done.

Initial fines are usually quite minimal and are often excused if the violation is corrected in a timely and professional manner. The practice of forcing an OSHA inspector who arrives on site unexpectedly to get a warrant before coming on the property, as may be recommended by many companies in the grain industry, is unheard of in the mining industry.

Several MSHA inspectors have told me that most issues being cited revolve around employee training. Much like the grain industry, new employees account for a higher percentage of accidents, injuries and fatalities. Every accident is written up and logged in a book kept on site for the inspector’s review at any given time.

The result of this scrutiny and focus on accident prevention and hazard elimination is shown in the exceptional safety record of this dangerous industry. Because there is a much greater awareness of safety hazards through education and greater emphasis on employee training and hazard elimination, the industry’s record has improved dramatically.

The mining industry, to be sure, has always been hazardous. Between 1900 and 1910, the annual rate was 3,000 deaths. During the same timeframe, there was an annual non-fatal accident rate of 250,000. Last year, the mining industry recorded “only” 54 deaths.

Send your thoughts about a grain industry safety association.

Much of the credit for fewer deaths and injuries goes to MSHA and a group formed in 1916. Recognizing the difficulty of government alone tackling issues industry-wide, the Bureau of Mines formed the group which now carries the founder’s name, the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association.

Holmes was the Bureau’s first director and focused the agency on saving lives and reducing suffering. He concentrated on training in first aid, rescue and retrieval procedures and accident prevention, as well as basic mining skills.

The Holmes Safety Association is widely recognized as the first major safety organization in the country, and has been referred to as the inspiration for several safety organizations, including OSHA and MSHA.

Twenty-four national organizations made up the safety association’s original charter. Chapters were organized at each mine or close to each mining region. This organization is very much alive and well today, with 7 state councils, 70 district councils, more than 5,125 local chapters and more than 450,000 members across the United States.

The association’s mission statement says it all: “Promote effective management of safety in mining and associated industries by providing a forum of government, industry and labor to develop solutions through communications, education and recognition of safety excellence.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could start a similar organization for the grain industry? This is a call for volunteers. If you are interested in forming a group like the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association, I would be interested in hearing from you.

If enough people show interest, Fall Protection Systems, Inc. will host an exploratory meeting and is willing to provide seed money for a similar grain industry safety association. Please contact me at 877-972-0400 or send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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