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Training challenges in mining and commercial aviation have much in common

Updated: Mar 15

A recent article that appeared in newspapers throughout the States and online draws attention to the fact that U.S. Federal regulators haven't done a good job of implementing new airline safety laws. These tighter regulations were enacted after the nation's last fatal airline crash 4 years ago in Buffalo that killed 49 people. The crash of a Continental Connection commuter aircraft was caused by weaknesses in pilot training, excessive work schedules and lack of experience, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. These problems are remarkably similar to small to mid-sized mines, who often don't have adequate budgets for training and workforce safety programs. Despite the fact that both industries are heavily regulated, the companies affected often drag their feet or push back against the laws, fearful of driving up costs or negatively affecting productivity.

Many of the problems cited in the article about the airline industry's safety woes are directly related to training. It says the Federal Aircraft Association (FAA) must: Provide more realistic training for new pilots. They must be better equipped to respond properly in emergency situations. This can be addressed through training programs that are specifically designed to focus on the most common or dangerous scenarios, and which give pilots procedures to follow when things go wrong. According to the article, "The accident was due to an incorrect response by the flight's captain to two key safety systems, causing an aerodynamic stall that sent the plane plummeting into a house below." Many VISTA training programs for the mining industry focus on common problem scenarios and ways to avoid them. The article also implies that more realistic training could include simulator sessions that address problems and procedures for solving them. This kind of realistic, hands-on training is critical to anchoring knowledge in the minds of trainees. VISTA's TruckLogic™ haul truck operator curriculum integrates computer-based training, simulation and on-the-job training sessions to help ensure that trainees retain the knowledge they need to operate productively and safely. Create a database that documents pilots' scores on past tests. When people's lives are at stake, you can't just take a new hire's word that he or she has completed specific training and has achieved a certain level of competency. Nor can you just put people through training and hope for the best. Ideally, you need to assess their baseline level of knowledge, and then give them a post-training test to ensure that they have retained what they have learned. Whether you use a centralized database or a simple learning management system (LMS) to track worker training within your mine site, there must be a verifiable trail of data that proves a person is competent for duty. Set up a program where experienced captains can mentor less experienced first officers. Experienced people in any industry or profession, including mining, have a wealth of tacit knowledge - based upon years of experience. What's usually lacking is structured field training that is designed to facilitate the transfer of this deep knowledge from the seasoned veteran to the newbie. This kind of structured field work is a central part of VISTA's TruckLogic™ curriculum, and is part of the reason it has been so effective at mines like Suncor. Ensure that near misses and other safety problems are being reported. In both the mining and airline industries, operators sometimes don't report near misses and other safety incidents for fear of retaliation. Whenever anything bad is being tracked, people almost always feel pressure to make the numbers look better than they actually are. This can be a problem in some mines, where productivity is worshiped and people who report problems are branded as troublemakers. They may even lose their jobs. As part of a safety culture, mine workers should be encouraged to report potential problems and safety violations, and that there are no negative consequences - official or unofficial - for doing so.

Are your mine's safety procedures and training as good as they ought to be? If not, you could be courting disaster, as Continental Connection did in 2009 and the Upper Big Branch Mine did in 2010, where 29 miners lost their lives. Interested in stepping up your training? See: Silver Series Training Program or Gold Series Training Curricula

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