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Implementing Safety as a Workplace Value

Jan 31, 2012

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has imposed a fine of $10,825,368, the largest in agency history. These penalties do no include almost $210 million for remedial safety measures, a trust fund for mine safety or restitution for the victims' families covered under the non-prosecution agreement.

According to Secretary Solis,

"I made a pledge to the families of those we lost, and the entire mining community, to conduct the most complete and thorough investigation possible in order to find the cause of this disaster. The results of the investigation lead to the conclusion that PCC/Massey promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, and broke the law as they endangered the lives of their miners. By issuing the largest fine in MSHA's history, I hope to send a strong message that the safety of miners must come first."

According to MSHA's investigation, the employer intimidated miners, gave advance notice of inspections, and maintained two sets of books with hazards recorded in their internal production and maintenance book, but not in the official examination book.

MSHA issued 369 citations, including 21 with flagrant violations, which carry the most serious civil penalties available under the law.

The non-prosecution agreement resolves criminal liability for employer, but does not provide protection against criminal prosecution of individuals. "U.S. Labor Department's MSHA cites corporate culture as root cause of Upper Big Branch Mine disaster," www.dol.gov (Dec. 6. 2011).

Commentary

A workplace culture is made up of the values and customs of the employer and its leaders. What is valued is reflected in what is mandated, rewarded, encouraged and prohibited.

One very important workplace value is safety. There are steps employers can take to instill a workplace culture that values the safety of its employees first.

First, as a manager or supervisor, set the example for behavior by modeling safe practices and taking responsibility for your actions. Encourage the same sense of responsibility in employees.

Employers can establish an incident reporting procedure where employees can report safety issues and wrongdoing openly and without fear. They must then have trained investigators ready to investigate claims in a moment's notice. When safety issues are discovered, leadership should take action immediately and decisively to resolve the issue and protect the reporter from retaliation.