By Ryan Worthen

When Kentucky’s largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance said they are committed to promoting workplace safety, the coal mine industry is no exception.

For several years, Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance (KEMI) has sponsored various mine safety events throughout Kentucky, but leaders in the organization saw an opportunity to further establish KEMI’s identity as the leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance in Kentucky and shed light on the benefits of choosing to partner with a company that understands the coal industry.

In July of this year, KEMI hosted the second annual KEMI Mine Safety & Training Competition in Pikeville, Ky. More than 40 coal companies, nearly 200 state and federal officials, and more than two dozen KEMI employees paid a visit to the heart of Kentucky’s coalfields for three days, all with one united goal: practicing and promoting mine safety.

Coal companies could compete free of charge and the event challenged individuals or teams in four separate disciplines: pre-shift, bench, first-aid, and two days of mine rescue training. Each event measured the competitors’ ability to thoroughly address simulated problems and disasters while racing against the clock.

“Competitions such as the KEMI event are critical in preparing teams for emergency situations,” said Jim Vicini, corporate chief inspector, Arch Coal. Since 1971, Vicini has been involved with rescue and recovery efforts following mine disasters, including the Scotia mine explosions, the Aracoma mine fire, and more recently, the incident at the Crandall Canyon mine
in Utah.

“While we strive to provide realistic scenarios that challenge these individuals, probably the most important thing we’re doing here is developing camaraderie between the different teams,” Vicini said. “The teams they are competing against are probably the same ones who will be backing each other up in an emergency.”

In the months leading up to the event, representatives from KEMI also emphasized the importance of teamwork by meeting regularly with several officials from both the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing to ensure a first-class event for the hundreds of competitors traveling from several states.

“This competition showcases the best of the best from across the country,” said Daven Hoskins, a client services representative for KEMI. “Countless hours of training and preparation are spent on developing skills that these miners hope they never have to use, so we felt it was only appropriate to spend the time necessary to create a memorable event.”

One unique aspect of the KEMI event is the number of winners recognized during the awards presentation. When teams and individuals registered, they were categorized into either a gold or silver category based on their experience in each contest. Newly formed teams with less experience were grouped with similar competitors in the silver category, while experienced teams were placed in the gold category. All teams faced identical problems and four winners per gold and silver category were recognized, totaling eight winners per competition.

“The competitive format added interest and excitement to the event, but our focus for the KEMI event will always remain on the training this contest provides to miners of all experience levels,” Hoskins said. “We want every coal company to know that KEMI takes mine safety seriously and we’re willing to dig deep to promote that message.”

Ronnie Bickerstaff with Cumberland & Black Mountain Resources is another veteran in the area of mine rescue operations and training. “I have learned so much to help my career, but the biggest thing I try to do is pass along the knowledge and expertise I’ve picked up over the years,” Bickerstaff said. “Under the MINER Act, we’re bringing in so many new miners to these rescue teams which makes this training absolutely vital.  We don’t want their first experience to be a bad experience.”

Providing creative, custom-tailored safety and training resources free-of-charge to its policyholders has been a cornerstone of KEMI’s success since the company started in 1995. With coalfields in both eastern and western parts of the state, an important segment of KEMI’s business includes coal companies of all sizes.

“Although we only write coverage to Kentucky-based businesses, we believe that promoting safety in coal mines across the nation benefits the industry as a whole,” said Roger Fries, president and CEO, KEMI.

“Our motto states that KEMI is ‘making workers’ comp work,’ and an integral part of that is educating our policyholders on the value of creating and maintaining safe workplaces,” Fries said. “This event is just one great example of what KEMI is all about: empowering businesses to control their own destinies through a proactive approach to safety.”

According to event organizers, plans are already underway for the 2010 KEMI Mine Safety & Training Competition. To learn more, visit

Author information
Worthen is the communications manager for Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance, based in Lexington, Ky. He can be reached at: 859-425-7800 (E-mail: