Firm Culture of Safety Creates Healthier IndustryWed, 10/21/2015 - 11:43
Over 100 years ago, a methane gas explosion at the Jed Mine in West Virginia claimed the lives of more than 80 miners. This tragedy acted as a catalyst, providing mine engineer John T. Ryan Sr. with enough justification to dedicate his life’s work to mine safety. With the help of famous inventor Thomas Edison, John founded Mine Safety Appliances (MSA) and created the electric cap lamp, an invention which reduced mine explosions by 75% over the next 25 years. Since then, MSA has spread its wings. Over 54 years in Mexico, it had mostly focused on commercial activities, with minimal manufacturing being performed in the country. However, in 2007, the company decided to increase its Mexican investments in order to reduce costs and offer the country more competitive prices. The result was the establishment of its Queretaro plant later that same year. Once MSA had firmly embedded its roots in Mexico, the structure of the company’s Mexican operations underwent significant improvements, particularly in terms of product availability, customer service, and technical support domains. Gerardo Aguilar López, Business Director of MSA de México, recalls the situation before these operational advancements. “Our commercial and technical staff were scattered over several locations within the country, but things are a lot more consolidated and organized now.”
MSA’s original commitment to creating a culture of safety is reflected today in its range of life-saving products. The company has been heavily focused on head protection systems since its inception, leading to the recent development of a groundbreaking ‘green helmet’ which made its debut in March 2014. Built with a polymer obtained from sugar cane, which in turn makes it 100% recyclable, MSA’s ‘green helmet’ addresses two of the mining industry’s primary concerns: safety and environmental care. Alongside this helmet, MSA is also well-known for its products devoted to portable gas detection. “Many recent accidents in mining sites have been caused by the release or leakage of undetected gas that triggered explosions and rockslides,” reveals Aguilar López. “MSA’s supply and calibration of portable gas detectors helps workers escape hazardous situations while providing technological added value.” Aguilar López also notes that certain regulatory changes now require all mining personnel to carry a detector. Due to the abundance of dust and gases within a mine, similar regulations dictate that miners must use a respirator which MSA makes under its Auto Rescuer brand and that mining companies must store a sufficient quantity in underground shelters and chambers. These personal respirators do not contain oxygen, but instead create a chemical reaction that produces enough oxygen to breathe safely for around 30 minutes. For rescue missions, MSA has the Air Elite device which uses canisters and enables the user to breathe for up to four hours. “Obviously, the use of our equipment is more extensive in underground operations as there is no need for an Auto Rescuer in an open pit,” explains Aguilar López.
In order to further contribute to the development of a safety culture, MSA provides training programs in Torreon and Queretaro, as well as on mine sites. “In terms of customer support, the training center has been more helpful than the plant in boosting knowledge, because the training we give is heavily focused on the norms and regulations that ensure safety in the market. It does not only revolve around MSA equipment,” describes Aguilar López. “For instance, MSA does not supply gloves, boots, and other safety garments, but these items are still strongly observed in the training sessions.” Despite the ongoing need for such training, Aguilar López believes that the mining industry has one of the best safety cultures in Mexico. This is partly due to the zero tolerance policies on accident prevention implemented by large corporations. “If a regulation will help ensure that mine workers will return home safely every day, then it is important that everybody is aware of it,” comments Aguilar López. “I am definitely seeing an impact as unions are now demanding safer conditions from their employers. The culture of safety is growing.” Nonetheless, he believes that there are still some regulations that are missing, but MSA aims to change that. In 2014, MSA issued a proposal detailing a regulation for confined spaces, which was then submitted to the Ministry of Economy. “Our proposal was approved, advancing us further into our norm project. Once it becomes an NMX (Voluntary Mexican Norm), we will push to make it an NOM (Official Mexican Norm). The Ministry of Labor has also begun working on this process. We will continue to work in coordination with the relevant organizations to ensure that these regulations help to develop our ideal culture of safety.”