During a May 5 stakeholder summit held by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, announced that the Small Mines Consultation Program (SMCP) and the Educational Field Services divisions will merge by June 29.
“We’ve been taking a look at the services we provide and assessing how we can do a better job,” Main said.
Employees were notified of the impending change last week. Cross-training is now taking place between the two groups, which will produce additional training materials and work with field offices to improve mine safety.
Small mines, however, will continue to be a focus area for the agency. Main noted that 6,000 of the 12,000 mines MSHA inspects are considered small mines, and he recognizes they don’t have the same safety resources as larger ones.
“We’re going to be increasing the attention we pay to small mines throughout this country,” he says. “We’re going to be doing better targeting. We’re going to look at mines that need better services.”
Dialogues with MSHA district offices will serve as one way to identify operations in need of additional training.
“The plan is to use the insights from our MSHA districts to try to help out the mines that need it,” Main says. “At the end of the day, we believe that we’re going to be able to give better service to the mining industry, we’re going to be better able to provide more help to those who need it, and we’re going to be able to do it at less cost to the agency.”
Aggregates Manager reported that the announcement was met with mixed reactions from the industry.
“Given the extensive efforts NSSGA and its members have made in recent years to keep viable MSHA’s small mines compliance assistance program, NSSGA is concerned about this bureaucratic step in the name of efficiency,” said Joseph Casper, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) vice president for Safety Services. “Nevertheless, we are cautiously optimistic that the new structure will attain the same results as achieved by the Small Mine Consultation Program (SMCP), which delivered quality compliance assistance to small mines, with the result of fatality rate reductions more than twice the rate of reductions for mines that hadn’t received SMCP assistance. We are hopeful that the new structure will build upon the success of the SMCP program.”