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MSHA's Technical Support Program Position
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The Industrial Minerals Association – North America (IMA-NA), a trade association which represents companies that mine and process industrial minerals, is an advocate for companies from across America that are serious about their obligation to protect miners.  IMA-NA member organizations do not rely on any one method or program when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of the lives entrusted to them.  Instead, they rely on a multitude of approaches.

Included in the resources IMA-NA members utilize for miner protection are those available through the federal government.  IMA-NA has not been timid in its embrace of public-private partnerships.  For instance, IMA-NA has formed an Alliance with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) which has been enormously successful in achieving substantive results which have improved the already outstanding safety programs of our membership.  IMA-NA also has formed partnerships with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address ergonomics and dust control within the mining industry.  Ergonomics has been identified, proactively, through this collaboration as the number one cause of injury in the industrial minerals industry sector, and dust control and silicosis prevention always have been major priorities for our companies.

A program exists within MSHA which many of our members would like to enthusiastically embrace in the spirit on public-private cooperation, and which would undoubtedly help our member companies improve upon their already best-in-class safety programs.  The program, MSHA’s Technical Support Incident Reduction Program, is a profoundly under-utilized resource within the agency.  This remains the case even though the program offers, for free, to evaluate safety systems and provide expert advice to operators who wish to improve their performance.  In fact, the program employees offered a webinar to all IMA-NA members which attracted a great deal of initial interest and was widely attended.  However, not a single IMA-NA member has elected to utilize the service.  Why have operators not embraced this phenomenal resource?

A similar program exists within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the OSHA Consultation Program.  Unlike MSHA’s Technical Support program, OSHA’s program is widely utilized by industry, and is profoundly successful.  What is the difference between these two initiatives?

OSHA’s program "offers customized feedback on potential hazards at worksites and recommendations to improve occupational safety and health management systems.  Confidential and completely separate from OSHA’s enforcement efforts, consultation services are delivered at the worksite by state governments using well-trained consultants.”  OSHA guarantees that there will be "no citations…issued or penalties proposed.”  Employers have no reason to fear the results of an OSHA consultation, and should only expect sound advice for the benefit of the employee.  OSHA states that "employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems, and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.”

MSHA’s program, however, does not guarantee that citations will not be a part of the consultation.  This leaves operators with the decision of inviting MSHA to their location under the guise of cooperative assistance, and all the while realizing the potential of a markedly different result.  This is not a collaborative effort.
Why should MSHA’s program not follow the same progressive philosophy of OSHA and allow mining organizations the opportunity to benefit from the immense knowledge base of the fine employees at MSHA’s Technical Assistance division?  Why can this one program at MSHA not be a true collaborative effort in which both parties can lower the veil of the regulator-regulated relationship?

OSHA’s program should serve as a model for a re-thinking of the MSHA program so that it can begin to make substantive contributions.  IMA-NA calls upon MSHA and the Department of Labor (where both agencies reside) to take immediate steps to modify this program in a fashion that allows mine operators to open their doors to the compliance assistance available at MSHA.  The safety of the American miner is at stake!