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Marsh: Overhaul of Mine Safety Regulations Also Requires Changes in Human Behavior to be Effective

Posted on 17 May 2010

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In the wake of recent U.S. mine explosions, President Obama ordered an overhaul of mine safety regulations and called for steps to streamline the process of identifying mines with a pattern of violations. He blamed the explosions on managerial failures, as well as loopholes in existing laws and regulations.

However, Ken Sloan, Marsh U.S. Mining Practice Leader, pointed out that increasing regulation will not necessarily improve mine safety unless the rules result in changes in human behavior.

"The obligation to ensure that staff is properly trained and, when necessary, re-trained or disciplined, must be shared by government, mine operators, unions, as well as individual miners. More regulation may not necessarily change human behavior, so developing or enhancing a culture that reinforces safe practices should be the goal," Sloan explained.

"Individual mine workers must also be responsible and held accountable for their own actions, particularly when management has provided prescribed training and a system for the reporting of unsafe behavior, conditions, or processes. No amount of regulation will prevent injuries when labor and management are not mutually supportive of the safety and economic goals of each other," Sloan added.

Complex and oppressive regulations may not only be counterproductive by diverting resources from areas where they are truly needed but also could drive up consumer costs and result in increased unemployment, according to Sloan.

Further, underwriters may now request that mining businesses provide more information regarding loss prevention programs, their financial strength to withstand more regulation, and the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) violation histories.

"Our clients typically welcome the development of a safety culture that promotes worker empowerment and the drive to do the right thing," said Sloan. "They have been through this before and are braced for another round of political oversight and more regulation."