Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Making More of MSHA Annual Refresher Training

Another season of Annual Refresher Training has come to a close, and my wheels are turning for next year's sessions. The patterns of behavior and big ideas I took away from almost a dozen sessions are ready to get onto the page and in front of the next group of miners.


Let's face it. Annual Refresher is often boring. A lot training sessions and conferences put most participants in a state of conscious that's just a notch above comatose. That's why every year I work hard to add new content and approaches to training, and this year was no different.

Accident alerts was a new topic for me this year. As the season progressed, my presentation evolved, adding videos and deeper connections to best practices that elicited discussion. The goal is to be provocative in a way that engages miners to be serious yet excited about the content.

The themes we drew from these 2016 accident alerts focused on being in the wrong place at the wrong time and taking full advantage of safety features. Each image includes a short description of the accident (msha.gov). My analysis and other resource suggestions follow.

Seat Belts Save Lives
(Cliche, I know.)


Seat belts are a sore subject with me. I've been operating heavy equipment for 20 years and have unfortunately observed more people who don't wear a seat belt than otherwise. Imagine being in the accident shown above without a seat belt.

Since we bring up seat belts often, I chose to focus on forklift safety issues. The video below shows a man used as a counterweight and a women who tries to rescue the load, leading to her death (graphic content).


Three Points of Contact


It doesn't take height to die from a fall. Last year, a miner died after falling off a haul truck in a bone yard. If I remember correctly, he was fixing something or looking for parts. He should have gone to the hospital and was found dead at the end of the shift. The miner who fell of the excavator, however, was lucky. 

Steps and ladders must be in good working order and meet federal safety standards. Three points of contact, facing the ladder are crucial, too. 

Wrong Place, Wrong Time


It may seem like a stretch to think about hardhats when someone is pinned between a man lift and haul truck, but that's right where I went when I first saw this accident alert.

Imagine you are crouched down in a tight spot, trying to manage a quick fix to get production back online. When you're finished and you stand up into the steel angle iron sticking out of the platform above, you're glad you put on your hardhat.

The miner in the man lift could have been distracted by any number of things. He could have been tired and stressed, which leads to increased anxiety and decreased working memory. Perhaps the controls weren't labeled properly on the man lift. These things happen, so expect them to and avoid starring in the fatalities presentation during annual refresher training.

The truck driver and the forklift operator in the video below where definitely in the wrong place, at the wrong time (graphic content).



Seat Belt. Seat Belt. Seat Belt.


The truck driver in the image above drove into the berm. I don't know why. It could have been a cell phone distraction. He could have been tired and dozed off. The fact of the matter is that by wearing his seat belt, he avoided what could have been a fatal accident. 

Haul trucks are the most dangerous part of most surface mining operations (based on frequency of fatalities). The video below is staged to show the significance of the haul truck's mass and velocity. Notice how the truck drives over the small passenger vehicle like a bump in the road.  



Feeders Feed, Crushers Crush


Inundation is when you are engulfed by material. This kind of accident is common when truck drivers relieve themselves between their truck and a stock pile. Unlike the image above, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to death (about two miners died in 2015 from inundation).  

Material from the feeder fell into the crusher where the miner was removing a blockage. Considering that feeders are designed to put material into the crusher, this situation does not surprise me. When I worked on processing plants, we often had a hydraulic hammer maneuvered with a stick and a boom. If someone was going into a crusher to free a blockage, the large rocks were moved with the hammer, the fly wheel (on the jaw crusher, different style than the one in the image) was chained to avoid pitman movement once the blockage was removed, and the machines related to the affected area were locked out.

The good thing about the situation in the image above is that the miners were not working alone. It is so important to work with people and have effective means of communication. Otherwise, it's not worth it.  

Stay safe out there, and follow this blog for email updates (No spam. Only content like this post.).  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Making Safety Programs Work for the Bottom Line

Growing up in the industry, one of my most influential quarry owner / operators said, "You have to watch the nickels and dimes. The dollars will take care of themselves." Although he was specifically concerned with frugality and waste, his message speaks to the essence of human behavior.

In a recent site visit, I found stickers on equipment and in strategic locations. The stickers reminded operators and drivers to complete the pre-shift inspection and paperwork. My client believes in the importance of consistent maintenance programs driven by documentation and ongoing communication between the operators and mechanics. The pre-shift inspection is the "nickels and dimes" in so many ways.


The culture of a company comes from the top down, and it's evident from the bottom up. Companies that invest in their safety programs are investing in their employees and their bottom line. It's more then just savings in accidents. Effective safety programs provide companies with the opportunity to establish a workplace culture through communication systems and routines that foster positive relationships.  

Communication Systems

I've had the opportunity to work with many mining and construction companies, and I'm delighted to have seen some companies taking care of their people and equipment. Safety, after all, is not just about avoiding accidents. I maintain that safety is about safeguarding people, tools, and the environment, and the keystone to safety programs is the communication.

Pre-shift inspection systems, like the one mentioned above, are one of the best ways to foster communication among employees. Completing the paperwork does more than document the issues so repair shops can keep the equipment making money. It strengthens the connection between the operator and the machine, provides managers with information about specific training that machine operators need, and it provides an inroad to conversations among employees that can grow professionalism.  

Leveraging Training Sessions to Grow Professionalism

Let's make something clear. When workers do online safety training or go to the free training provided by the government, businesses are missing out on an opportunity to nurture the workplace culture. The kind of work I do includes quarterly safety inspections, targeted training sessions based on a variety of data, and building relationships on the soapbox of safety and reducing cost of loss.

When I walk away from a training with the feeling like workers were engaged, it's because several participants contributed in a variety of ways. That's ultimately what I do for the training – facilitate connections made by participants through their contributions.

In other words, if I can get them talking about specific situations and share what they've learned, their coworkers and employers will take note and have a moment that increases solidarity. People love to be understood. It's the inroad to healthy relationships.

One of the ways you get trainees to make contributions is through breakout sessions that allow them to explore concepts by sharing their experience. These sessions often build on a big idea concept such as cost loss analysis and aim to add examples and characteristics generated by the groups.

Cooperative Learning

If the cooperative learning sessions are facilitated properly, the message carries out to the workplace. Workers will retain more of the safety program elements if they learned them from their coworkers. They see their coworkers everyday, sometimes more than their families.

This kind of cooperation allows the elements of a safety program to persist while otherwise it might die in the rabbit hole of complacency.

Working On Work Culture

I could go on and on about the complexity of these issues, but the bottom line is that a safety program that works for the bottom line is supported by effective communication, positive relationships, and training that places the ownership of the knowledge and skills in the hands of the boots on the ground.

For more on some of the topics mentioned, please stay tuned for future posts. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Data-Driven Health and Safety Training

The mining industry is different than other sectors under the purview of the Department of Labor. Among many other reasons, it has its own regulatory agency. Consequently, registered mines have more data for site-specific safety programs to use as a guide for training.


For me, this year's rounds of annual refresher training will be different for our clients. It will be the first year since I started making data-driven training materials that I will actually participate in the training session. What's more, I get a slot to discuss the data collected by our company and MSHA and the analysis I've done behind the scenes for the past five years.

I'm writing this post to articulate my analysis process and explain how it becomes the framework for the in-depth topics on the training agenda.

Here's what I do.

1. Collect the MSHA Data

The Mine Data Retrieval System provides a violation history for all registered mines. This data can be sorted in a variety of ways. I usually sort by violations and a specific date range.



2. Look for Patterns

Once you have the data you're looking for, count how many of each particular violation. Then, compare the violations based on the type. For example, are there several different 56.12000 violations? This may indicate that further task training is required in the area of electrical safety.


3. Compare Patterns 

I usually look at three years of violations so I can compare patterns from year to year. The year-to-year issues are then compare to the annual refresher training agenda.

4. Target Hazards 

For many of our clients, we can look at three to five years of training agendas, MSHA data, and the third-party inspections we do two to three times per year. This allows us to focus the annual refresher training on topics that are clearly weaknesses. 


5. Make Training Materials

This analysis process helps us reevaluate the training materials we've used in the past. We have to ask whether or not the training is working, which is a hard question for some professionals to ask. 

I think it's the most human question to ask. Is this working? Not only do our clients deserve better training every year, we ask honest questions of our work because it could save a life.  


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Supporting English Language Learners on License Exams

As immigrants flood into the United States, we have a responsibility to provide them with opportunities. It's what we do in the Land of Milk and Honey.


One of the problems I'm seeing in the mining industry has more to do with the language barrier than knowledge and skills. That's why I was recently hired to spend some time working with one of my client's most talented hoisting engineers.

Here's what we did.

We started off with some pre-assessment and reading activities. It was through identification of trouble words that we found Google Translate and Images to be helpful tools. 

Google Translate

Finding the right word can be tough. Although bilingual dictionaries are very useful, using Google Translate and thinking critically about the results can increase the benefit of translation. But these are skills that students still need to learn under the guidance of a good teacher because, as we know, literal translations can be problematic.



The student was preparing for his fourth attempt at an engineering license exam. When we went through some of the content, he understood the concepts very well. Reading for understanding was his struggle.

Here's our process that ultimately helped him to move beyond his affective filter – the point at which a language learner is no longer comfortable taking risks.

  1. Select a chunk of content for the learner to analyze for troubling or unfamiliar words (any words, not just content-related), and underline or otherwise mark them for study.
  2. The learner then writes a prediction for what he thinks each word means.
  3. Use Google Translate to look up the words and discuss the different possibilities in the primary language. This is an opportunity for the student to teach the teacher, which is critical for building a healthy atmosphere for learning. This conversation should be misty English, of course.
  4. Prompt the learner to use context clues from the selected chunk to determine the meaning of the English word.
Most discussions will lead to an understanding of the word. For the words that are really tough or unfamiliar, incorporate Google Images.

Google Images
Maybe the learner is close to understanding the context of a word and is still unsure. Teach them to routinely look up the word on google Images to make a visual connection with the context they may already understand. 


Using Google Images like this is a great way to move toward not needing to translate for understanding.

More Tools
Consider other tools that support ELLs. Perhaps it's an extension or a tool within an app that makes learning content in English more accessible.

Chrome extension Speak It!
http://youtu.be/GFj2XdZYrv8

Quizlet reads it to you and allows teachers to record their voice for each card. Students like hearing their teacher's voice.

Google Docs and the ability for live commenting.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Before Disaster Strikes: 5 Tips to Keep Your Head in the Game

Photo: Wikimedia
A gas explosion at the Japanese
Mitsubishi Hojyo coal mine, on
December 15, 1914, killed 687 workers.
via Mining Examiner
After an accident, we often reflect on what could have been done to prevent it, but do you ever considered how you would act in an emergency situation before you're in one? Have you ever thought about it beyond the weekly toolbox talk or the annual safety training?

Here's five points to consider before you find yourself in an emergency situation.

1. Decide on how you want to help.
If you are the type to step in and save lives, make sure you assess the situation and listen to people's concerns. Put yourself in their shoes and avoid losing your patience by expecting more from them then what they can give. This can be practiced by learning about the kinds of strengths and weaknesses members of your crew, including you, display regularly, especially when things get a little hairy.

2. Learn from the successful actions of others.
When the evacuation alarm sounds, the best move is to follow your training. Stick to the plan your employers have designed for the safety of all employees. If you think you're tough enough to stay where you are, in the middle of a disaster scene, rethink your choice and make moves to safety as soon as possible. As you walk your normal routine, think of different structures or equipment that could obstruct your exit and plan an alternate route.

3. Take it personally.
The next time you see a coal mine disaster on the news, remember that it could have been you. Mining isn't statistically the deadliest job, but there are plenty of ways to die every time you punch the clock, start your machine, or dump over the stock pile.

4. Avoid the bystander effect.
According to psychologists, the bystander effect says that the more observers at a scene, the less likely anyone will intervene. Don't be an observer doing nothing. You don't have to be superman, but communicating with 911 rescuers, assigning tasks to other potential bystanders, retrieving supplies, or taking note of the time or other details that might help doctors save your coworker trapped beneath a beam.

Do something. Anything. Just don't stand around when someone needs to be rescued, especially if you think you can't do anything. If all you do is not add to the bystanders, you have done something to help the victim. So the next time your boss catches you standing around, get to work and keep it that way.  

5. Teach empathy to others. 
The news can make disasters not seem as real is they are. Maintain your human element when reflecting on disasters. Put yourself in the situation and imagine how you would feel. It's important to explore your emotions hypothetically because anger is often a secondary emotion. If you are aware of how you feel about certain traumatic situations, you might be able to control your anger and make better choices.

It's tough for us to think about bad stuff when we work under such dangerous conditions, but don't repress those hypothetical thoughts if they come to mind. In fact, you and your coworkers will be better off if you share your concerns and discuss what could be done to overcome the situation before a bad one becomes worse.

Five tips adapted from an article on by Susan Krauss Whitbourne at Psychology Today.