Never rest on your laurels, particularly when it comes to the safety and health of miners. With our mines safer than ever, we should ask: how do we get even better, keep the trend moving in the right direction and speed up our progress?  There are several good ways to answer that question.

In a column for the June issue of Rock Products,No one Accepts Fatalities, Injuries or Illnesses as the Cost of Doing Business,” I discuss one answer to that question, an answer that was recently offered by head of MSHA, Joe Main.  Here it is: “We don’t have to accept fatalities as the cost of doing business in this industry.”  To be fair, that was not the Assistant Secretary’s only answer, but it wasn’t a good one.

Near as I can tell, the head of MSHA was suggesting that fatalities occur simply because mine operators just don’t spend enough money or pay enough attention to the safety and health of miners.  Who has he been talking to?  I grew up in a mining family and have represented clients in the mining industry all over the country for many years.  I’ve yet to meet anyone in mining—in aggregates, metal, non-metal or coal—who just accepts “fatalities as the cost of doing business.”  The industry doesn’t, and neither does MSHA.

Mr. Main cares deeply about the safety and health of his employees, just as he cares about the safety and health of all miners.  I am certain he doesn’t accept injuries or illnesses suffered by MSHA employees as the cost of doing the government’s business.  Nevertheless, the injury and illness rates for MSHA employees show that MSHA hasn’t been able to get to zero—zero fatalities, injuries and illnesses.  So, why can’t MSHA get to zero?

One answer to that question is MSHA’s extremely narrow focus on conditions and practices, not acts and behavior.  While the Act requires MSHA to focus on conditions and practices, it does not bar MSHA from acknowledging the role that unsafe acts play, and it certainly does not prohibit MSHA working with the industry to address unsafe acts.  Industry knows this and is acting accordingly, and I hope that MSHA will do the same.