Mining Publication: Assessing the Safety Culture of Underground Coal Mining: Results and Recommendations
Original creation date: February 2014
Authors: C Kosmoski
In recent years, coal mining safety has attained national attention due to several highly publicized disasters. Despite these threats to worker safety and health, the U.S. relies on the mining of coal to meet its need for electrical power, with 42% of electricity in the U.S. generated through the burning of coal. (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2012b; United Mine Workers of America, n.d.). Furthermore, the production of coal continues to increase and reach record levels every year (National Mining Association, 2012; U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2012a). For this reason, the coal mining industry must continue to find ways to protect its workers while maintaining productivity.
One potential approach to protecting workers while maintaining productivity is through improving the safety culture at coal mines. In order to achieve this culture, operators, employees, the inspectorate, etc. must share a fundamental commitment to safety as a value. This type of culture is known in other industries as a "safety culture," and can be defined as the characteristics of the work environment (such as the norms, rules, and common understandings) that influence facility personnel’s perceptions of the importance that the organization places on safety.
Fundamental to improving safety culture within an organization is understanding the existing safety culture; improvements cannot be made without first elucidating areas that require improvement. This manuscript details the process undertaken by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) to assess the safety culture at five underground coal mines across the United States. The purpose of this manuscript is to present the aggregated results from those five safety culture assessments conducted at underground coal mines. Additionally, some general recommendations for areas where coal mines might focus their attention as part of their attempts to improve safety culture are offered.