By Chris Lu, Deputy Secretary of Labor
Bull Run Plant, a quarry in northern Virginia, expects to excavate and process a total of 2 million tons of rock this year to support road and walkway construction in the community. This week, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main and I visited the metal and nonmetal mine to see firsthand this remarkable operation.
Operating since the 1950s, Bull Run Plant was purchased in 2002 by Luck Stone, a family-owned company that produces crushed stone, sand and gravel at mines in Virginia and North Carolina. The company has credited its over 90 years of success in part to an emphasis on value-based leadership and collaboration. Workers, or “associates” to Luck Stone, are encouraged to raise safety concerns and make suggestions for improving operations. They regularly visit other Luck Stone mines to share best practices and exchange ideas. For example, one associate at Bull Run Plant suggested keeping the headlights of trucks on at all times to increase visibility. His idea was soon implemented across all Luck Stone mines. His feedback and the feedback of his colleagues have allowed the company to improve safety outcomes.
Luck Stone continuously looks for ways to improve safety because the company understands that the health and well-being of associates is critical to its operation. Protecting workers at all 12,000 metal and nonmetal mines in the United States is a top priority for the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Since Aug. 3, 2015, a day marked by three fatal accidents at three different metal and nonmetal mines, MSHA has aggressively stepped up its enforcement, education and outreach initiatives, by increasing inspections at mines that warranted more attention, and directing additional coal enforcement personnel and field training staff towards the effort. The agency also collaborated with stakeholders to raise awareness and draw attention to specific hazards or conditions contributing to the deaths. MSHA has issued safety alerts to help mines prepare for seasonal changes and regularly holds national conference calls to provide the mining community with the latest information and best practices.
As a result of these concerted and joint efforts, the metal and nonmetal mining industry experienced 133 days between Aug. 3 and Dec. 15 without a single death – the longest such stretch in mining history. And for the first time in recorded history, no metal and nonmetal mining deaths occurred in October, traditionally the industry’s deadliest month. Two deaths in December 2015 brought the total of metal and nonmetal fatalities in 2015 to 17, down from 29 deaths the previous year.
Thanks to the work of MSHA and the proactive leadership of companies like Luck Stone, the more than 250,000 workers at metal and nonmetal mines in the U.S. can feel safe on the job and return home every day free of injury and illness.
Chris Lu is the Deputy Secretary of Labor.