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How Do I Improve My Odds?

By Randy Logsdon

Some of the larger football stadiums seat nearly 100,000 fans. Attending a professional football game or a major college bowl game in one of these stadiums is a treat – even if its cold and the seats are closer to the goal line than the midfield stripe. As you’re holding those tickets, suppose someone told you that seven of the fans attending that game would die. We don’t know which seven. Your chances are as good as the next guy’s. Would you attend, or stay home?

In 2012, 17 metal/non-metal miners were killed at work – operators and contractors combined. Third quarter 2012 MSHA data tells us that there are 246,156 operations and contract miners in the metal/non-metal mining industry (including office personnel). The 17 deaths in 2012 compute to seven for every 100,000 miners.

Nearly two of every 100 metal/non-metal miners suffered some sort of reportable injury. These are the odds we live and work with every day. We review the Fatalgrams (all 17) and sometimes we dig into the fatal reports. And more times than not, we wonder what was that guy thinking.

We separate ourselves from the unfortunate few who did something we would never do. Except that each of those seventeen victims, at one time or another rationalized a Fatalgram in exactly the same way.

Risk Assessment

On an individual level, we each perform some sort of a risk assessment in the tasks we perform – at work and away from work. I recognize the hazards associated with a particular environment, around certain equipment, and concerning certain tools. I understand the effects of visibility, distractions, inclement weather, and fatigue on my ability to operate.

I rely on my skills, training, knowledge and experience to guide me to the completion of my task successfully without mishap. I also take risks, drawing from those personal attributes (skill, training, knowledge and experience) to compensate for windy conditions, a touchy power tool, a poor nights sleep. Sometimes, I may even skip procedural steps because I’m that good.

I may function for a lifetime – even into retirement following this rational. Or maybe not. But risk is not something that applies only to me. There is another level. The risks that I accept and feel comfortable accepting are observed and modeled by that younger miner.

You know the one – the one who is still green but doesn’t know it. He recognizes my skill and appreciates my experience and so he patterns his behavior after mine but without the experience or wisdom to back it up. I didn’t ask to be this mentor.

But I am, therefore I have a moral responsibility to demonstrate the correct way – the safe way to perform these tasks. I don’t want someone performing over his head and getting injured or killed imitating me.

Following My Lead

Unlike my young friend, metal/non-metal miners across the country do not follow my lead. But in studying the Fatalgrams and the reports, I don’t know these people, their families, or their coworkers. But I’ve discovered that they’re not all young. Some have more experience that I do. In fact, while I won’t admit it publicly, I’ve caught myself doing some of those things that led to their demise.

In each of the last five years, between four and seven metal/non-metal miners died in powered haulage incidents – mobile equipment and conveyors. If averages hold, at least five more miners will die in similar incidents this year.

Proportionally, that’s like losing five of 71,500 fans in the stadium. So, now I’m wondering if the extra risk that I’ve been accepting is worth the benefit. There will be five! Am I so sure one of those five will not be me?

I do know that I can improve my odds.