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My view: Utah's mine safety culture is exemplary

By Mark Compton

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The entrance to the Tower Mine near Wellington, Utah, where Murray Energy Corp. has made safety changes since the company's Crandall Canyon Mine disaster killed nine miners.

August Miller, Deseret Morning News

Enlarge photo»

The Deseret News editorial published on Aug. 29 ("In our opinion: Ignoring miners") unfortunately is an inaccurate portrayal of the mine safety culture in Utah and the industry's commitment to miners' health and safety.

Employee safety and health is the first priority of every mining operation, and over the past 15 years, that commitment has led to a 52 percent decrease in the rate of injuries in U.S. mines and a 58 percent reduction in the fatal injury rate. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 2012 saw the lowest fatality and injury rates in the history of U.S. mining. That is encouraging, but our work is far from completed.

The editorial references the 2007 Crandall Canyon accident, which took the lives of nine men, and Elam Jones' death in March of this year. The Utah mining industry takes these accidents very seriously. These men were our brothers, fathers and sons. They were part of the larger mining community family. It is in their memory and in their honor that we are committed to providing a work environment in which every employee returns home safely after every shift.

The safety culture in Utah demands we continue to strive for improvement to reach the ultimate goal of zero accidents within the industry. In order to achieve continued improvement in mine safety and health, the mining industry in Utah promotes health and safety as a core value. We strive to instill the values of safety leadership, accountability and personal involvement in every employee, and to provide them with the required training and tools to prevent fatalities, injuries or occupational illnesses.

The Utah Mining Association (UMA) works with mining companies, MSHA, and the Utah Office of Coal Mine Safety to improve safety performance and awareness through safety training programs, both at our annual convention and our annual safety conference, and we support investment at the federal and state level to further research and education in mining engineering programs and mine design criteria for the purpose of improving mine safety.

The mining industry in Utah is committed to providing a safe work environment, and in fact, we operate some of the safest mines in the world. In 2005 and for the last three consecutive years (2010-2012), Utah mines have been honored nationally with the "Sentinels of Safety" award, which is awarded annually to the nation's safest mines.

In addition to national recognition, UMA is proud to present annual safety awards to individual Utah companies for demonstrating outstanding safety performance during the previous calendar year. At our annual convention last month, we presented a total of 21 safety awards to 14 individual companies for exemplary performance in 2012.

And when I say exemplary, I'm not exaggerating. Companies being recognized for safety achievements by UMA were required to have an incident rate of half the national average or better. That's an extremely high bar, but we want to recognize the best of the best.

The fact that we were able to present 21 safety awards this year says a great deal about the industry's commitment to safety and the mine safety culture here in Utah. I don't believe that commitment can be questioned.

Mark Compton is president of the Utah Mining Association.

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