Mining giants such as Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, Newmont Mining Corp., Peabody Energy, Barrick Gold and Consol Energy are among the 29 companies representing more than 100,000 employees to have signed on to a voluntary safety initiative called COREsafety.
CORESafety is a 20-step program that focuses on improving management systems and was developed by a group of mining CEOs and safety experts over the past three years. Its ultimate goal is zero fatalities and a 50 percent reduction in injuries by the end of 2015, when it’s scheduled to be fully implemented.
The program was announced on April 2, just days before the two-year anniversary of a West Virginia disaster that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners, but it has been in development since before that fatal accident.
“We realized we had to do a better job and this is a way to enlist everyone in this effort,” Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association told The Wall Street Journal. “There has to be a culture of safety, and that’s what can be achieved here.”
At the time of the announcement there had been 10 fatalities at U.S. mines, compared to 37 for all of 2011, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. There were 8,525 total mining injuries in 2010 when there were 361,000 miners in the U.S., 30 percent less than in 2004 when there were 329,000 miners, according to MSHA.
Joe Main, the head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), said he was encouraged by the mining industry’s announcement, “As I have said before, we need stronger criminal penalties for rogue operators who skirt the law, enhanced whistleblower protections so that miners can speak out about safety, and a host of other reforms that only Congress has the power to enact.”
The program calls for additional training of managers, improving ways of identifying and addressing safety hazards of existing mines, setting engineering standards for new mines and making sure that contractors adhere to enhanced safety guidelines, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The industry effort did not include input from federal mine safety regulators who have called on Congress to pass tougher penalties for violating mine laws to strengthen the hand of inspectors and other government officials charged with policing the nation’s mines. The industry generally opposes tougher regulation, saying regulators have tended not to use their full authority under current law.
Some mine safety experts praised the approach of targeting safety systems companywide. “Mere compliance with the law is generally not good enough. They have to build a culture down through the worker level,” said R. Larry Grayson, a professor of energy and mineral engineering at Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA.
Grayson said a high percentage of U.S. mining operations already have zero fatalities each year. He said a challenge will be getting smaller companies to use the program to improve. More than 60 percent of the nation's underground coal mines, for example, have fewer than 50 employees, he said. Many of those mines are run by small private companies