West Elk mine proud of its safety record

The West Elk mine in Somerset has gone the better part of a year without incurring an injury reportable to federal mining safety authorities, while extending a streak of perfect compliance with a law’s environmental requirements.

Since May 7 of last year, the mine’s 350 employees have worked more than a half-million hours combined without incurring a single reportable injury, as classified by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

They mined 4.9 million tons of coal while working more than 580,000 hours over that time, mine owner Arch Coal said in a news release last week.

It said the mine also has recorded 13 consecutive years of perfect environmental compliance under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

Mine general manager Jim Miller said the employees deserve credit for observing and addressing any safety and environmental situations.

He said the mine began a behavior-based approach to safety in 2007 and it has resulted in major improvements.

“It’s basically an observation process of our peers, one person observing another typically and trying to identify if there’s any risk involved with the individual doing the work and also identifying the lack of risk — basically some two-way between the individuals if there’s a safer way to do the job.”

Miller added, “Mother Nature creates an environment that is not always easy to work in without risk. There are Mother-Nature-inherent risks in mind that we try and address also.”

The mine’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

As an example, it won an award from the state for having the lowest total recordable incident rate among large underground mines in Colorado in 2009. Its rate of 1.61 recordable injuries per 200,000 employee hours was a third of the national underground mine average at that time.

Miller said an example of a reportable injury is one requiring sutures.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Miller said of the effort to incorporate the behavioral approach. “It takes a while to get everybody doing it, so it takes years to make an improvement and get this process going, but I think our people are really bought into it now.”

Arch Coal acquired Mountain Coal and its West Elk Mine in 1998. The mine opened in 1982 as the Mount Gunnison No. 1 mine and had been operated by ARCO Coal Co.


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