Miners, like many skilled blue-collar workers, are not traditional learners. They have not generally been successful in classroom type settings, preferring to learn on the job in a hands-on environment, usually from older, more experienced miners who have earned their respect. U.S. miners are required to have annual safety training, but they have not viewed this positively. In fact, it has been called "safety jail" by many of them, who regard it as a time to get a little extra sleep. The challenge for the NIOSH research project "Developing and Evaluating Effective Safety Training for Miners" then, was to find a way to develop effective safety training for these people, particularly in view of the fact that their work is among the most dangerous of all occupations, and failure to learn about and pay attention to the hazards of doing the job could mean injury or even death. Miners are born story tellers. They share "near miss" stories, stories about master miners they have known, and stories about how things used to be. These stories not only pass along information about what will happen if a miner fails to respect the mining environment, they also instruct listeners in the culture of mining and the values that it embraces. Stories, it seemed, were a possible way to get safety messages to miners, especially inexperienced ones, and using older, wiser miners in these stories was an obvious choice. Finding appropriate stories to tell was not a difficulty. Every miner who has worked for any length of time has personal experiences of near-misses, either as a participant or as a by-stander. A digital video format was chosen as the most logical media for capturing the stories, because of the versatility it provided as a source of raw material to other media such as DVD, VHS or even CD-based training. The initial plan was to visit the Sunshine Mine of northern Idaho to interview survivors of the infamous Sunshine Mine Fire of 1972 that killed 91 miners. In those interviews, it was hoped, other stories would surface, that could also be used to illustrate the hazards and consequences of working in a dangerous environment. All of the miners interviewed had at least 30 years of experience, and all of them had stories to tell. 27 people were interviewed on camera, for anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. They talked about the fire, but also talked about how they got into mining, what mining was like then, who' trained them, what kind of inistakes they had made and what happened because of them. It is an amazing wealth of information that will generate many more training products before it is depleted. This presentation will discuss how the videos that have been created to date were developed, how "master miners" and story lines were chosen, and how the resulting videos have been received in the mining industry. It will also provide information on the newly released documentary-style video, You Are My Sunshine, which tells the story of the Sunshine Mine disaster through the eyes of those who lived it. This particular video has generated intense interest, with over 700 requests for copies received in less than a month after its release in early August of 2002. It is a compelling story, and one that is already being used nation-wide to train mine rescue teams as well as fire-fighters and other emergency teams. It appears that story-telling is a very effective way to train skilled blue collar workers. To hear another person's experience, and see the impact it has had, is to become involved in the experience, and to learn from it. And that is what training is all about.
Best Practices in Occupational Safety and Health, Education, Training, and Communication: Ideas That Sizzle, 6th International Conference, Scientific Committee on Education and Training in Occupational Health, ICOH, In Cooperation with The International Communication Network, ICOH, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, October 28-30, 2002