By Luke Popovich
It’s rare enough to catch a glimpse of the future. And when you do, it can occur in the most unlikely place. So it was last month with the official opening of the Running Right Leadership Academy, Alpha Natural Resources’ spanking new $23 million training center in Julian, W. Va. (See Alpha Academy, p. 24). Some in attendance came away with the feeling they were seeing not only a marvel of engineering, but a proud new day in American mining.

To see it from a distance is to see the academy more clearly—it’s really about the future of mining in America. In a striking way it gathers together the trends we have glimpsed throughout the industry. For example, the marriage of safety and communications technology to everyday production, the out-sized investments that companies are making to ensure that safe mines are productive mines and finally the emphasis on safety improvements not just as an end result but as a beginning objective.

“This is a historic beginning for the future on mine safety, health and training,” said Alpha’s visionary Chairman and CEO, Kevin Crutchfield. “The success of our company and our industry starts with safety.” Exactly. From a mine tragedy that took lives emerges one company’s impressive commitment to save lives and an entire industry’s commitment to build a culture of safety. Even regulators sense the new culture in mining. “I think there is a cultural shift that is beginning to take shape,” said Mine Safety and Health Administration Director Joe Main.  

NMA President and CEO Hal Quinn certainly saw the shift at the dedication ceremony in Julian. The evidence is not in last year’s record low fatality numbers—a year when total U.S. mining employment was nearly at its zenith.  The evidence, said Quinn, is also seen in facilities like Alpha’s and in the industry’s steady embrace of NMA’s CORESafety initiative to drive continuous safety improvement.  Both events signal change. “Like Running Right, CORESafety reflects a safety culture that is proactive, not reactive,” said Quinn. “It anticipates what should be done to safeguard miners with a systematic approach that identifies safety challenges—then applies the appropriate resources and measures to meet them.”  

Already the NMA has seen how companies are embracing continuous safety improvement procedures by adapting CORESafety modules—about 20 in all—to match conditions specific to their operations.  

Safety preparedness is key to preventing bad things from happening but also to ready if they do. This September 9-12, in Columbus, Ohio, the NMA will be the proud sponsor of an annual mine safety rescue competition (See News p. 20).

It’s all part of a renewed commitment to safety—now coming to a mine near you.

Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.