By Randy Logsdon
How many (you fill in the blank) does it take to change a light bulb? It's an old joke playing on our fascination with the absurd. Interestingly, as safe work procedures and equipment, the truth appears at times to approach absurdity. Consider the light bulb placed in a difficult to reach elevated location. It could easily require the effort of a team of two or more to place a person in a position to safely access the fixture and replace that light.
The fact is that advancements in technology and corresponding adjustments in process require an advanced attention to safety issues that often requires an increase in personnel. Permit-required confined-space entry requires a minimum of two people performing three functions (entrant, attendant and supervisor). Some fall protection scenarios require a spotter. Both could require standby rescue personnel. Many procedures and processes require certified technicians or inspections. More and more, critical lift plans involving at least a handful of affected persons must be crafted before picking materials under critical conditions – more people.
So let's apply that same question to a more comprehensive task. How many miners does it take to maintain a safe work environment? You may have already formulated an answer. But let's explore some of the options.
- One knowledgeable and influential safety and health leader. This is the individual who provides the structure, information, training, and other tools that promote safety and prevent injuries. His or her focus is on what has to be done, how to do it, what tools are required perform safely, and how well the workforce complies.
- One inspired and dedicated operations leader. The title varies – superintendent, manager, VP, owner. This is the person responsible for the operation. He or she sets the philosophical tone, and is responsible for hiring, training, purchasing, scheduling, and just about every other aspect of the operation. He or she sets the safety example in both concept and deed.
- A group of dedicated supervisors. Supervisors daily reinforce positive safe operational and maintenance procedures. Individually, each member of this influential group is charged with getting things done safely by ensuring compliance with established procedures and safety rules. The supervisor is the face of the company to his or her crew and serves as the primary timekeeper, advisor, trainer and mentor.
- The front-line workforce. Depending on the size of the operation this may be a handful of skilled workers and apprentices or dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees fitting the same description. The front-line worker's duties can be reduced to just a couple key safety and health responsibilities: perform assigned duties as directed safely, and/or reporting hazardous conditions or procedures.
- The real answer in my estimation – all the above.
The fact is, no one individual or group can successfully maintain a safe work environment. It truly is a joint effort. Each of the first four groups described above has a specific role in maintaining a safe. Understanding your own role and respecting the roles of your counterparts are perhaps the most important factors in realizing that successful coordinated effort.
So would it really be absurd to think that we all have a role in changing that light bulb?