Safety, training a central focus for Massey

SOME mines simply follow safety rules – others are innovators and lead the way. As Massey Coal Services vice president for safety and training Elizabeth Chamberlin explains to American Longwall Magazine, Massey Energy’s commitment to the well-being of its members is not new and is built upon a foundation of training and the development of best practices and technological improvement.

Donna Schmidt

Published in the May 2007 American Longwall Magazine

From its earliest days, Massey Energy has been a leader in safety innovation and the list of workplace improvements is impressive. Among the most notable are fluorescent and reflective clothing, which began at the front lines of Massey’s mines, the continuous miner proximity devices, stockpile dozer cab protection, NASCAR-type webbing for mantrip doors, improvements in fire fighting equipment and an S-1 sled holding essential supplies that can be easily moved to an area in the event of an emergency.

On rock trucks and heavy equipment, ladders were replaced with safer, easier to use stairways. Last year, Massey Energy was recognized for its pivotal role in developing a proximity device that provides additional protection for continuous miner operators and is now working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on the testing of the experimental personal dust monitor (PDM). The list of safety innovations goes on and Massey Energy members continue to add to it.

In the early 1990s, the Virginia-based producer established the S-1 safety program, serving as a constant reminder that safety is of No. 1 importance at Massey. To recognize safety excellence in the workplace, the nationally acclaimed Raymond Safety Program was established to reward their safety-conscious employees and families with merchandise, electronics and vacations.

To keep its workers and family members healthy, Massey also built the West Virginia Wellness Center in the town of Madison, which it said provides the highest quality healthcare available in southern West Virginia. “These multifaceted initiatives promote safety, health and also encourage teamwork and the development of new ways to keep workers going home safe and healthy each day,” according to the company.

“Safety and training sectors are evolving in response to the changing workforce dynamics,” Chamberlin said of the changing face of mining that is being seen industry-wide. “As less experienced miners enter the workplace, basic skills training remains important.”

“Many miners entering the workplace are familiar with computers and electronic games and may be more receptive to less traditional forms of skills training,” she added, a notion that is being incorporated into Massey’s successful safety and training initiatives.

Daily mentoring is another large part of the company’s pursuit of maintaining the safest mines. As a miner, foreman or any other type of employee begins his or her tenure with Massey Energy, they are assigned a more seasoned employee to offer instruction, guidance and support.

That doesn’t only include teaching someone S-1 safety fundamentals or how to do the job according to Massey Energy S-1 standards, Chamberlin explained. The experienced person can often provide great information to the new individual on intrapersonal dynamics between other workers, special protocol and perhaps a newer, more efficient or simply better ways of doing a task.

“That concept of mentoring … had gone by the wayside in the industry generally,” Chamberlin said, adding that the concept is seeing a resurgence. “[We] have had an established mentoring program for quite a while,” she said, adding that the company’s “younger workforce” has made the effort all that more vital as of late.

While training is one key to Massey’s safety success, another one can be found in a phrase identified with retired Massey executive Raymond Bradbury that has what’s become a guiding principle for the operator’s everyday activities – “a safe mine is a productive mine.” Safety recognition awards bearing his name are now bestowed each year to Massey Energy mines that show exemplary commitment to that principle.

Just as it takes more than one person to have teamwork, it takes the dedication of every individual to have a strong team. “Each resource group has an experienced group of safety professionals to assist management, but everyone is responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment,” she explained.

“Management at all levels is involved in training; skilled third party instructors are used for specialized training, if not available in-house. [We] also use the varied resources available from MSHA, NIOSH and state agencies.”

Other initiatives Massey uses consistently within all of its mines are a series of general and specialized training courses, including standardized training videos to ensure every worker is prepared, knowledgeable and confident in his or her skills.

Additionally, the operator has championed the development of many safety innovations to assist those underground and at the surface in partnership with outside technical resources and government agencies. Research and development into more safety and training-related procedures and aides continues at the company, Chamberlin said; for example, training is currently underway to EMT-certify all mine supervisors.

Simulators are also under consideration as a training tool, she noted, and the company evaluating enhanced or specialized training on subjects such as ventilation and emergency response.

Chamberlin said the industry as a whole is focused on improving safety. “Over my career, many safety enhancements have been developed, improving workplace safety and health. Massey Energy is particularly proud of their leadership role.”

“While 2006 was a difficult year for Massey Energy, our members remained focused, renewing their commitment to S-1 principles and concluding the year with an NFDL rate better than the national average,” she added.

Steady improvement comes from taking mandated safety provisions, going a step beyond, and making that new improved practice a regular and everyday protocol at all of its mines. “[Safety] has to go beyond regulations,” Chamberlin said.

The Miner Act and similar state “emergency preparedness” provisions are “well-intentioned” and will ultimately make the industry better, according to Chamberlin; however, as Massey Energy president Don Blankenship has observed, “the industry must not allow this regulatory compliance effort to distract from focusing on accident prevention”.

“Rigorous training, employing best practices and implementing accident prevention technologies are the most effective means of keeping our members safe.”