“How Six Sigma Can Improve Your Safety Performance”

Six Sigma is the evolution of statistical quality improvement processes that have been used extensively to improve manufacturing and other process-related industries. How good is Six Sigma? It is a statistical measure of variability or standard deviation. The Six Sigma process calculates to 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Needless to say, that is near perfect execution of a process. Although not often used in the safety arena to full potential, Six Sigma tools can help produce significant and sustainable improvements in safety performance, injury reduction and associated pain.

Total Quality Management
To gain an understanding of Six Sigma, it is helpful to have some historical knowledge of the original statistical improvement tools or the Total Quality Management (TQM) concept. Original quality pioneers such as Walter A. Shewhart, W. Edwards Deming and Kaoru Ishikawa worked with Japanese manufacturing companies in the 1950s to significantly improve the quality of products. The original concept, TQM, has been defined as a management philosophy that produces continuous improvement of products and processes.

One of the most powerful tools that came out of TQM is the Plan/Do/Check/Act (PDCA) continuous improvement wheel. In this concept, plan to do something, do it, check for the effectiveness and, if it’s not performing as planned, act upon that by making changes. Then, on an ongoing basis, “turn the wheel” or plan, do, check and act again. This produces continuous improvement. The concept of PDCA is still just as powerful today as it was when first proposed.

A safety application of PDCA at both a strategic and an operational level is shown in the following diagram.

Six Sigma – Quality on Steroids
Although TQM provided significant quality improvement for users, there were still opportunities to improve the concept. That is why Six Sigma came to be. The Six Sigma management concept was originally developed by Motorola USA in 1986. In 1995, Six Sigma became more visible when Jack Welch made it a focus of business strategy at General Electric. Today, the Six Sigma concept has become the standard process for quality improvement in many industries. The objective of Six Sigma is to improve the quality of processes by identifying and removing the causes of defects. In safety, these process defects can be unsafe behaviors, incorrect procedures or equipment failures, all of which can result in injury.

A Formal Improvement Process
The original TQM used a number of statistical tools, but there was no formal process for integrating all of these tools and developing a complete process improvement solution. Six Sigma uses DMAIC, a clearly defined five-step improvement process that consists of the following:

Define
• Identify the process and define the scope of the project.
• Clearly identify the inputs and outputs of the process.
Measure
• Evaluate the measurement systems and resulting data.
Analyze
• Determine cause-and-effect relationships.
• Identify the root cause of the defects.
Improve
• Develop and implement improvements.
• Test effectiveness of improvements.
Control
• Implement a system to sustain the improvements.

Define Stage – What Are We Working On?
In the Define Stage, clearly identify the scope of the project or what it is that needs work. Also determine what the target performance should be. It will be necessary to understand what process is failing and resulting in what kinds of injuries.

One of the Six Sigma tools that is typically used in the Define Stage of the DMAIC method is the SIPOC. This tool is typically used in the manufacturing process where it is important to identify the suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers. The diagram below shows the use of this tool in a very simplified version of the line construction work process.

By applying this tool to safety, one can see how some of the suppliers and inputs – which are normally not considered to have an impact on safety – can indeed have impact. For example, the SIPOC tool helps demonstrate that the people who design the project, design the standards or determine the specifications of the materials should consider safety implications when doing design work.

Measure Stage – Is the Data Correct and What is it Telling You?
In this stage, the data being used is extensively assessed and interpreted. First, ensure that the data is valid and accurately measuring the desired subject. This can often be an issue when analyzing behavior observations. Behaviors such as use of safety glasses are easy to document and address. More controversial items, such as adequate cover-up, are not always documented and addressed. As a result, when combining all of the observation data, since some of it is not valid, the overall observation results may not reflect actual performance.

Often in this phase, charts and graphs will provide directional information stating that performance has improved or degraded, but this may be misleading. Many charts and graphs reflect averages, and important information can be lost in averages. There are a number of tools used in this stage to identify whether it is truly statistically improving or if it just looks better on a chart. Tools that are used in the Measure Stage include histograms, Paretos and process capability.

Analyze Stage – Identifying the Root Cause
In the Analyze Stage, use the data collected and validated in the Measure Stage to determine the root causes of the process defects or injuries. A few of the tools that are used in the Analyze Stage include Cause & Effect Fishbone Diagram, Five Whys and Correlation Testing. The fishbone diagram is familiar to most people because of its extensive use in identifying the root cause of accidents. The importance of this stage cannot be understated because if the root cause is not validated, the corrective measures – tied to that root cause – will not provide the desired results.

Improve Stage – The Corrective Measures
After completing the Analyze Stage, potential corrective measures often become evident. During the Improve Stage, it is most important to test the potential corrective measures to see if they will address the root cause. In the safety arena, that does not mean to wait and see if another injury occurs. The root cause needs to be prevented, not the injury. In the case of eye injuries, the identified root cause may be the employees not wearing safety glasses or employees wearing improperly fitting safety glasses. In this case, the Improve Stage would include a process for fitting glasses and providing them to employees. In this stage, pilot trials or other forms of testing effectiveness can be used.

Control Stage – Make it Sustainable
The primary objective of the Control Stage is to monitor results and ensure that the expected improvements are being achieved and sustained. One of the biggest challenges, especially when implementing safety improvements, is ensuring that those improvements will be sustained. Far too often, events or injuries occur and upon analysis, corrective measures were recommended and implemented several years ago for a previous event, but are not working or are not in place for various reasons.

One reason for this could be that a good process was not in place to sustain corrective measures. Actual examples include:
• A safety improvement memo was sent out, but there was no follow-up to ensure that people implemented it.
• A new, safer tool was specified and purchased, but the older, unsafe tool is still found throughout the system. In the case of safety glasses, the employees are no longer using the ones they were fitted with.

Another reason may be that the original corrective measure did not correct the original root cause. This should have been identified when testing the effectiveness of the corrective measure in the Improve Stage.

Of all of the stages in the DMAIC process, I feel the Control Stage is the most important and most overlooked.

Conclusion
This represents only a small example of the tools and methods that are typically used in the DMAIC process. There is no question that use of Six Sigma and the DMAIC process requires trained facilitators to assist in providing desired results. The results, though, can be substantial if the process is properly followed. If an organization has access to someone with these skills, they can be very helpful in identifying the root causes of injuries and developing sustainable corrective measures. Appropriately utilized, Six Sigma can be an important component in creating an injury-free workplace.

About the Author: Ted Granger, CSSBB, CUSP, is an independent safety consultant affiliated with the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He provides training, lectures and safety consulting services. Prior to his current role, Granger served in various managerial positions during his 37-year career at Florida Power & Light Company. These included T&D operations, human resources, logistics and safety, where he utilized his Six Sigma Black Belt certification. He can be contacted at tedjgranger.

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“Excavation & Trenching Safety” #ConstructionSafety @StopThinkPrevnt

Trenching and Excavation Safety

Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. OSHA defines an excavation as any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet (4.5 meters).

Dangers of Trenching and Excavation
Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment. Trench collapses cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year.

Protect Yourself
Do not enter an unprotected trench! Trenches 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep or greater require a protective system unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. Trenches 20 feet (6.1 meters) deep or greater require that the protective system be de-signed by a registered professional engineer or be based on tabulated data prepared and/ or approved by a registered professional engineer.

Protective Systems
There are different types of protective systems. Sloping involves cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation. Shoring requires installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement and cave ins. Shielding protects workers by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins. Designing a protective system can be complex because you must consider many factors: soil classification, depth of cut, water content of soil, changes due to weather or climate, surcharge loads (eg., spoil, other materials to be used in the trench) and other operations in the vicinity.

Competent Person

OSHA standards require that trenches be inspected daily and as conditions change by a competent person prior to worker entry to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. A competent person is an individual who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions that are hazardous, unsanitary, or dangerous to employees and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or control these hazards and conditions.

Access and Egress
OSHA requires safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps, or other safe means of exit for employees working in trench excavations 4 feet (1.22 meters) or deeper. These devices must be located within 25 feet (7.6 meters) of all workers.

General Trenching and Excavation Rules

  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
  • Keep surcharge loads at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) from trench edges.
  • Know where underground utilities are located.
  • Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases.
  • Inspect trenches at the start of each shift.
  • Inspect trenches following a rainstorm.
  • Do not work under raised loads.

Additional Information
Visit OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics web page on trenching and excavation at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/ index.html

Highlights

“No Injury, No Accident”……..Right??” #Safety #NearMiss

Discover how near misses can add up to major accidents. “No Injury, No Accident?” dramatically shows employees how to recognize and prevent serious injuries or fatal accidents before they occur. Based on the pioneering work of W. H. Heinrich and his renowned “Heinrich Triangle,” the program demonstrates how the odds of a serious or fatal accident occurring emerges from a series of typical injury-fee accidents. “No Injury, No Accidents?” also shows employees the importance of reporting the accident, investigating how it happened, and eliminating the cause. It’s an essential message for every safety program.

Note: The first 23 seconds of this 18 Minute video are a little garbled.

What Are Near Misses?

Near misses happen every day in the workplace. Regardless of their potential for personal injury and property damage, all near misses should be taken seriously and consistently reported.

There are many terms which essentially mean the same thing – accident avoidance, close call, mishap or even narrow escape. It doesn’t matter exactly what terminology your business chooses to use when referring to a near miss. What matters is whether everyone understands exactly what constitutes a near miss and why it’s essential to make a record of it so it can be investigated and addressed.

Overcoming barriers to reporting

Many obstacles stand in the way of operating and utilizing an efficient and effective near-miss reporting program:

Fear of blame: Many employees are afraid to report near misses because either they don’t want to admit that they didn’t follow safety procedures or they will be mistakenly accused of doing something wrong. To create a truly effective near-miss reporting program, this stigma must be eliminated.

For near-miss reporting to work well, employers need to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere. The goal is to make employees so comfortable about the process that they report them as easily and freely as they would report a garbage can is full or a light bulb is burned out. Blame cannot be part of the equation – period.

Incoherent indifference: Another enemy of effective reporting is indifference. When a near miss occurs, some employees may question whether the situation was substantial enough to be recorded. When this happens, employees often simply disregard the event. This mindset can be lethal to a near-miss reporting program.

Hazards that are overlooked or dismissed as minor are lost opportunities for valuable insight. Employees should be trained on the importance of reporting each and every near miss. A clear definition should be provided on what constitutes a near miss, including any situation that appears to be “unsafe.” Once employees understand the importance of reporting and are clear on the definition of what defines a near miss, they will feel confident about their judgment and empowered to report.

Lack of supervisor support: Employees usually follow their direct supervisor’s instructions in most job-related situations. If a supervisor does not treat near-miss reporting as a priority, there is a good chance their personnel won’t either. Supervisors need to encourage this type of reporting and set an example by reporting near misses themselves. When employees know that their supervisors are completely on board with near-miss reporting, it is easier for them to feel comfortable to report, as well.

Near-miss reporting is a critical component of any well-organized and effective safety program. Over time, near-miss programs have been shown to save millions of dollars in medical care and equipment replacement costs. More importantly, they save lives.

Reporting near misses should not just be considered an “extra” thing or something the employee is ashamed or embarrassed to do. Instead, employees should feel proud that they are part of an effective process of prevention and incident management and thanked for their proactive safety behaviors.

 

“Safe Kids Worldwide Report Looks At Keeping Kids Safe Around Medicine” – Infographic

Click on Infographic for a larger image!

Blog Post created by Lisa Braxton Employee on Mar 17, 2017

The latest report from Safe Kids Worldwide™, Safe Medicine Storage: A Look at the Disconnect between Parent Knowledge and Behavior, explores parents’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior around medicine storage.

According to the report, every year, more than 59,000 young children are seen in emergency rooms because they got into medicine while a caregiver wasn’t looking – the equivalent of four busloads of kids every day. Most families believe they are being careful about storing medicine away from children; however, a national survey of 2,000 parents revealed a surprising gap between parents’ knowledge of what they should do to protect kids from accidental medicine poisoning and what they are actually doing.

The survey showed that 9 in 10 parents agree it is important to store all medicine up high and out of reach after every use, but nearly 7 in 10 said that they often store medicine within a child’s sight – on a shelf or surface at or above counter height.

Parents are often choosing convenience over caution by storing medicine in a handy and visible location for easy access or as a memory aid. In fact, 4 in 10 parents agreed that it is okay to keep daily medicine on the kitchen counter or in another visible location so it is handy, and nearly 5 in 10 parents agreed that when a child is sick, it is okay to keep medicine handy on the kitchen counter or in another visible location between doses. These findings support the need for more medication safety education and outreach efforts.

See the rest of the story here.

 

“Behavior-Based Safety: Myth or Magic?”

Behavior-Based Safety: Myth or Magic?

Behavior-based safety is a broad term used to describe everything from basic employee behavior audits and feedback to a comprehensive safety management system designed to change a company’s safety culture.

When it was introduced, behavior-based safety (BBS) was seen as a magic panacea for everything that ailed safety programs. “It was the Swiss Army Knife of safety programs. It could take care of everything,” says Ron Bowles, director of operations for Portland, Ore.-based Strategic Safety Associates. “Now people realize that it is just one tool and more are needed.”

Decades after the initial launch of BBS programs, the process has lost favor with many safety managers, who claim the cost – such programs can be expensive – and the long-term results are not what they expected.

Some experts argue that expectations for BBS were unrealistic from the start, while others believe the process has been corrupted at some companies, transformed into an auditing program that assumes a “blame the employee” attitude about safety failures. “Behavior-based safety makes the assumption you know what behaviors you should be doing,” says Robert Pater, managing director of Strategic Safety Associates. “It assumes you know what to do and need to be reminded to do it.”

Not surprisingly, that approach failed at many companies, says Larry Hansen, CSP, ARM, author and principal of L2H Speaking of Safety Inc.

“My intro to behavior-based safety was being asked by my employer at the time to go to an Indiana food distribution company to analyze the safety program,” remembers Hansen. “At 9 a.m., I walked in the door and the general manager said, ‘Stop right there. I just bought a gun, and the next SOB who mentions behavioral safety…’”

Hansen said the company had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a behavior-based safety program and it had failed miserably. “It never had a chance,” he says. “There was a poor manager and a sick organization. They bought into it because they thought it said what they wanted to hear about the cause of incidents, what I call PDDT: people doing dumb things. In other words, employees are the problem and a BBS program can ‘fix’ them. It’s a core misconception that leads to failure.”

The Myth

Jim Spigener, vice president of BST Inc., a global safety consulting and solutions firm that was one of the pioneers in the concept of BBS, says BBS caught fire because “for years and years and years, there wasn’t much new in safety. Then someone seized on the fact that management might want to pay attention to employees. But very few companies were ready to embrace the whole movement.”

Even without a total commitment to changing the safety culture with BBS as a part of that process, BBS caught on “because it was getting results and it seemed to make sense,” says Spigener.

BBS was meant to be part of a bigger safety system, he adds, mentioning what he calls the “fatal error” of assuming that BBS in some form or another works as the only approach necessary to improve safety and reduce incidents.

“BBS, the way people talk about it now, is really a myth,” says Spigener. “A lot of companies jumped on the bandwagon, grabbed a BBS program off the shelf and now are disappointed with the results. And unions have a very good case for going after traditional BBS programs [that ‘blame’ the worker]. Traditional BBS programs don’t examine what drives employees to be in a hazardous situation.”

Hansen offers a perfect example to illustrate Spigener’s point. Hansen says he visited a facility that incurred repetitive losses from injuries employees suffered running up the lunchroom stairwell. Finally, an employee fell and broke his leg, at which point management adopted a BBS program, installing monitors in the hallway leading to the stairwell to remind employees to walk up the steps and to reiterate the company policy, which called for no running. Despite the focus on employee behavior, employees continued running up the stairs until a second major incident occurred, leaving an employee paralyzed. Finally, someone got smart and began to examine systemic causes for employee behavior that ran contrary to company policy and, even, common sense.

“They weren’t asking the most basic question of employees: ‘Why are you running up the stairs?’” says Hansen. “The answer was, ‘There aren’t enough chairs in the lunchroom.’” Employees knew, says Hansen, that if they were late entering the lunchroom, they had to stand to eat their lunches.

“Behavior-based safety done right can be very effective at helping you discover what’s wrong with an organization, find the core organizational causes of risk,” Hansen adds. “Done wrong, it can be used to mask organizational and management failures.”

It’s the Culture, Stupid

E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., talks of attending a session at a safety conference where the presenter asked audience members if they had been injured in a workplace incident and then asked, “How many [incidents] were caused by another person? An equipment failure? Your behavior?”

“When the majority raised their hands when he asked if their behavior caused the incident, he said, ‘I rest my case,’” Geller, alumni distinguished professor at Virginia Tech and director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems in the Department of Psychology, remembers. “But he didn’t go to the next step and ask the next question: ‘What influences behavior?’ It all happens as part of the culture.”

BBS has its virtues, says Donald Eckenfelder, CSP, P.E., the principal consultant with Profit Protection Consultants and a past president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, but it also has its faults, one of which is the lack of focus on the overall safety culture and environment at a facility. To its credit, Eckenfelder says BBS:

  • Focuses on the human side of safety;
  • Defines safe and unsafe behaviors;
  • Encourages safe behavior and discourages unsafe or destructive behaviors;
  • Involves employees in safety;
  • Requires management to put its money where its mouth is; and
  • Engenders commitment and passion, especially in the early phases.

“There are clearly good things about behavior-based safety,” says Eckenfelder. “But there is more negative than positive” in many of the BBS programs companies have adopted, he adds.

For example, many BBS programs, as packaged by the provider or used by the customer, don’t deal with the causes of safety failures; they deal with the symptoms. “Behaviors of employees are a long way from the root cause,” says Eckenfelder.

If corporate management supports and encourages safe behavior by eliminating root causes – such as engineering, process, communication or training failures – then employees are more likely to want to adopt safe behaviors. Employers, managers and supervisors who actively and vocally support safe production and put money and resources behind that support are less likely to get pushback from employees regarding safe behavior.

“Safety isn’t primarily a technical problem or a behavioral problem,” Eckenfelder points out. “It’s a cultural problem. If the culture’s wrong, nothing else works.”

He notes that when we walk into clothing stores or restaurants, we know if the culture is good or bad. “Can’t you feel the culture?” Eckenfelder asks. “If they’ve got the culture ‘right,’ you say to yourself, ‘Wow! I’d really like to come back here.’”
And the quickest way to ensure safety culture failure, experts agree, is to try to “force” safe behavior on employees.

Experts equate such pressure to a parent telling a teenager how to behave … and say it gets about the same response. As Robert Pater, managing director of Strategic Safety Associates, says, “You can’t mandate people to monitor themselves. You can invite them to do it. Forcing change creates pushback.”

If you really want behavioral change, says Pater, “employees have to see the value of change. They have to believe they can change. They have to know how to change. They have to practice, because behavioral change doesn’t happen from one exposure. And the new actions have to be reinforced through acknowledgment, celebration and external monitoring.”

The key to true, positive behavior change, adds Bowles, “is to create an environment where, rather than have safety as something that is being done to me or for me, it’s something that’s being done with me or by me. Once I begin to own it, I can have incredible success.”

“Real change happens inside out,” Eckenfelder adds. “People get better because they change their attitudes, not because there is pressure placed on them from the outside.

Read the remainder of the story here: http://ehstoday.com/safety/ehs_imp_75429

Source EHS Today®

 

“Workplace Safety Infographic: The Younger Face of Workplace Safety”

Source: Atlantic Training – Note PDF of this info-graphic is available on this page.

“CSB Releases New Safety Video Detailing Investigation into 2013 Fatal Fire and Explosion at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, LA”

January 25, 2017, Washington, DC –

Today the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a safety video of its investigation of the June 13, 2013 explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, Louisiana, which killed two workers and injured an additional 167.  The deadly explosion and fire occurred when a heat exchanger containing flammable liquid propane violently ruptured.

The CSB’s newly released 12-minute safety video entitled, “Blocked In,” includes a 3D animation of the explosion and fire as well as interviews with CSB investigator Lauren Grim and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. The video is based on the CSB’s case study on the Williams incident and can be viewed on the CSB’s website and YouTube.

Chairperson Sutherland said, “Our investigation on the explosion at Williams describes an ineffective process safety management program at the plant at the time of the incident. We urge other companies to incorporate our recommendations at their facilities and to assess the state of their cultures to promote safety at all organizational levels to prevent a similar accident. ”

The CSB’s investigation found many process safety management program deficiencies at Williams, which set the stage for the incident. In particular, the CSB found that the heat exchanger that failed was completely isolated from its pressure relief valve.

In the video, Investigator Lauren Grim said, “When evaluating overpressure protection requirements for heat exchangers, engineers must think about how to manage potential scenarios, including unintentional hazards. In this case, simply having a pressure relief valve available could have prevented the explosion.”

The CSB investigation concluded that in the twelve years leading to the incident, a series of process safety management program deficiencies caused the heat exchanger to be unprotected from overpressure.  As revealed in the investigation, during that time Management of Change Reviews, Pre-Startup Safety Reviews, and Process Hazard Analyses all failed to effectively identify and control the hazard.

In addition, the CSB found that Williams failed to develop a written procedure for activities performed on the day of the incident, nor did the company have a routine maintenance schedule to prevent the operational heat exchanger from needing to be shut down for cleaning.

Finally, the video describes CSB’s recommendations made to the Williams Geismar plant which  encourages similar companies to review and incorporate into their own facilities. These include:

– Conduct safety culture assessments that involve workforce participation, and communicate the results in reports that recommend specific actions to address safety culture weaknesses

– Develop a robust safety indicators tracking program that uses the data identified to drive continual safety improvement

– And perform comprehensive process safety program assessments to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of the facility’s process safety programs.

“Managers must implement and then monitor safety programs and encourage a strong culture of safety to protect workers and the environment,” Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said,

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. CSB investigations examine all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, http://www.csb.gov.

For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at public@csb.gov or by phone at 202.446.8095.

 

“Confined Spaces – Supervisor Safety Tip Series” #ConfinedSpace #Safety

Developed by Vivid’s Chief Safety Officer Jill James, a former OSHA inspector, this series examines real hazards in real work environments. This safety tip video explains ways to stay safe while working with Confined Spaces.

Confined spaces are enclosed or partially enclosed spaces of a size such that a worker can squeeze entry for performing assigned work through a narrow opening—they’re tough to get in and out of, tight spaces. These spaces are normally only entered to perform specific tasks and then barricaded to prevent unauthorized access.

As an example, think of a large tank used for holding liquid. Sometimes, these storage units or big containers need to be cleaned out, so you send a worker to get inside and they’re completely surrounded by walls of the structure, with only a small entry/exit hatch for escape if things go awry. Confined spaces create the ideal conditions for the onset of claustrophobia. Confined spaces can be large or small and above or below ground.

This video covers:

Source: Vivid Learning Systems

“West Virginia Senate Bill Eliminates Mine Safety Enforcement”

By Ken Ward Jr. , Staff Writer, Charleston Gazette-Mail

State safety inspectors wouldn’t inspect West Virginia’s coal mines anymore. They would conduct “compliance visits and education.”

Violations of health and safety standards wouldn’t produce state citations and fines, either. Mine operators would receive “compliance assistance visit notices.”

And West Virginia regulators wouldn’t have authority to write safety and health regulations. Instead, they could only “adopt policies … [for] improving compliance assistance” in the state’s mines.

Those and other significant changes in a new industry- backed bill would produce a wholesale elimination of most enforcement of longstanding laws and rules put in place over many years — as a result of hundreds of deaths — to protect the health and safety of West Virginia’s coal miners.

Opponents are furious about the proposed changes but also fearful that backers of the bill could easily have the votes to push through any language they want. Longtime mine safety experts and advocates are shocked at the breadth of the attack on current authorities of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

“It’s breathtaking in its scope,” said mine safety expert Davitt McAteer, who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration and led a team that called for strengthening — not weakening — the state’s mine safety efforts after the deaths of 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine just seven years ago next month.

Senate Bill 582 is billed as legislation “relating generally to coal mining, coal mining safety and environmental protection.”

Various lobbyists and advocates, even many lawmakers, are still trying to sort out and understand its many provisions, which range from language rewriting the state’s program for holding mine operators responsible for cleaning up abandoned strip mines and properly classifying streams that are trout waters to consolidating existing state mine safety boards into one panel and creating a new mandate for state-funded mine rescue teams.

A legislative committee lawyer indicated that some provisions intended for the bill didn’t make it into the initial text, including a rewrite of language in water quality standards that has been the subject of much litigation aimed at reducing water pollution from large-scale surface mines. Those provisions would have to be amended into the bill or added through a committee substitute, the lawyer said.

The heart of the legislation is a section that simply eliminates the ability of state mine safety office inspectors to issue notices of violation or levy fines for mine operators or coal companies for any safety hazards unless they can prove there is an “imminent danger” of death or serious physical harm.

Language in the bill offers somewhat confusing answers about what inspectors would do if they found imminent danger. One part of the bill maintains the current law, which says that inspectors must issue an order to pull all miners out of the affected part of the mine until the hazard is corrected. Another section, though, refers to a new type of process involving a “notice of correction,” that appears to carry no monetary penalty.

One thing that is clear is that the bill would maintain and encourage the use of “individual personal assessments,” which target specific mine employees — rather than mine operators or coal companies — for violations, fines and, possibly, revocation of certifications or licenses needed to work in the industry. In addition, the requirement for four inspections every year for each underground coal mine would be reduced to one compliance assistance visit for each of those mines.

And, the bill would require that, by Aug. 31, the state rewrite all of its coal mine safety standards so that, instead of longstanding and separate state rules, mine operators would be responsible for following only U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations. The list of areas covered by this provision includes electrical standards, mine ventilation, roof control, safety examinations, dust control and explosives.

“It completely guts the state law,” said Josh Roberts, international health and safety director for the United Mine Workers union. “You’re taking back decades of laws.”

Roberts and McAteer agreed that the notion of deferring almost all state mine safety standards to the federal government is especially concerning, given the promises made by President Donald Trump to remove regulations the coal industry says have been hampering production and employment. McAteer noted that West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths last year and has had two deaths already in 2017.

“It is shocking that, after all these years and the numbers of West Virginians who have died in the mines, for the state to even consider this,” McAteer said Monday, after reviewing the legislation. “The state needs to be involved in making sure we are protecting our citizens. This should be one of the primary goals of the state government.”

Word that the coal industry was planning to have one of its supporters in the Legislature drop such a bill has been circulating since the start of the session in early February.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said Tuesday that he isn’t sure that his organization fully supports the reduced enforcement authority spelled out in the legislation.

Asked if that meant the industry feels the bill goes too far, Hamilton said, “We’re okay with it the way the bill is, but we just think it can be tweaked and maybe improved on.”

Hamilton said federal inspectors spend plenty of time at West Virginia’s coal mines and that having state inspectors doing the same thing is duplicative.

The current version of the bill was introduced during a Senate session on Saturday. The lead sponsor is Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker. Smith chairs the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee and is employed as a safety manager for Mettiki Coal. Officials from Mettiki’s parent corporation, Alliance Resource Partners, were major contributors to Smith’s campaign. Alliance bills itself as the second-largest Eastern U.S. coal producer. Its Mettiki arm operates a large underground mine in Tucker County.

On Tuesday, with a near-packed committee room full of industry officials and some rank-and-file coal miners, and with the legislation on the agenda, Smith announced that he was sending the bill to a three-person subcommittee that would be chaired by EIM Committee Vice Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston. Other subcommittee members will be Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, and Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, Smith said.

In an interview, Smith said he doesn’t necessarily support all provisions of the bill he introduced. For example, he said he doesn’t really support taking away so much of the state mine safety office’s enforcement power.

See the rest of the story: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-politics/20170314/wv-senate-bill-eliminates-mine-safety-enforcement#sthash.A8oevOgJ.dpuf

Source: Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

More Information:

Map: West Virginia Leads Nation in Coal Mining Deaths Since 2004

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Photos Courtesy of Kevin Burns

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