Coal Age

APR 2018

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34 April 2018 training continued RPs, and those who a mine would want to have in charge in the case of a challeng- ing situation like an explosion. Each type needs to be trained to a different depth. Trainers must prepare those who have to make the tough calls when SOPs aren't enough, but how do they avoid going too deep for the others? Tabletop exercises, such as mine emer- gency response development (MERD) ex- ercises, are a good way to train for depth, because trainers have room to increase or decrease the difficulty dynamically, in response to how challenged the trainees appear to be. Three safety managers that we interviewed used tabletop exercises to train their RPs, and each ran them a little differently, as described below. Approach 1: Organizing the presentation One trainer noticed that the straight lec- ture approach was not only putting his trainees to sleep, it was putting him to sleep. So, in an effort to liven up the train- ing by making it more interactive, he de- signed a 2-hour tabletop exercise around a simple fire scenario that incorporates all 11 elements required by the standard. He divides the class into groups of two or three, giving each a mine map and paper on which to log events. After each new development, groups discuss and log the event and their actions, then share their responses with the whole class. The trainer leads the discussion, then gives addition- al instruction on emergency practice and relevant company procedures. His goal is to use the RP class to teach emergency response to as many people as he can. "During what I call the responsible person's 'window of work' — that 1/2 hour to 1 hour until the manager takes over — the more people that understand what's going on, the better chances you have," he explained. He therefore keeps the scenario simple and uses discussion to address the wide range of skill-levels in the class. Approach 2: Consolidating the learning Another trainer runs tabletop exercises only after instruction on the 11 elements, as a way of applying and consolidating learning. He also runs two exercises per session. This makes for longer classes, but it allows him to use scenarios like inunda- tions which do not include all 11 elements. Indeed, because that mine's RP will take over in any type of emergency, he will of- ten include a surface event among the two. The exercises are run as in the first case, with the class broken into groups and discussion after each development, but the scenarios are more challenging. One scenario has two people trapped during a fire, while another asks trainees what information they could give MSHA that might convince them that they do not have to seal the mine. Approach 3: Challenging the go-to RPs The third trainer distinguished annual RP training, required of all RPs, from supple- mental training, just for the go-to RPs and not offered every year. Annual training is computer-based, self-paced, and includes a must-pass knowledge check with a re- quired follow-up with the safety staff to address all trainee knowledge gaps. The supplemental training is MERD-style ex- ercises, complete with safety staff playing the parts of people the RP must communi- cate with, such as a 911 operator or a min- er eager to enter an RA. The staff creates thorny problems by drawing on their knowledge and study of past events to stage similar events at ap- propriate locations in the RPs' own mine. Three or so RPs at a time work the exercis- es for two hours (stopping even if the inci- dent is not completed), with an hour or so of straightforward instruction preceding and discussion following. During the ex- ercise, the trainers dynamically adjust the difficulty to keep it challenging without letting the RPs totally fail. Regardless of their approach, safety managers noted that it is valuable for train- ers to base scenarios on real events and to learn enough about their context to be able to respond to trainee questions. If a trainee does poorly on an exercise, they might dis- miss it as unrealistic rather than something they should take seriously and learn from. Sustaining RP Performance Refresh content to sustain trainee interest and develop skills Without fresh content, veteran RPs will become bored, if not complacent. New tabletop scenarios keep trainees engaged and in problem-solving mode, but creat- ing good ones takes a great deal of time. Another way to refresh training is by add- ing short skill-building modules. For ex- ample, building on NIOSH's "Radio 101" materials ("Operating Two-Way Radios Every Day and in Emergencies"), trainers could ask RPs to practice using techniques to ferret out the proper information about an unfolding event when that informa- tion doesn't arrive in the ideal order and includes irrelevant, vague, inaccurate, or distracting comments. Use after-class spot-checks A well-designed assessment promotes learning and can identify areas that need improvement. Most managers assessed RP training by the RP's performance in class discussion, exercises, drills, and events — only one required RPs to pass an end-of-class test. All brought their safety team together after exercises, drills, and events to discuss what to add or change to the training or the mine's emergency procedures. They also asked their RPs at the end of their class to share their ideas for improvement. But drills are hard to ar- range, emergency events are typically rare, and RP training occurs only once a year. A systematic assessment of RPs several months after a class would give managers a better sense of how well the training and procedures are functioning. A simple way to do this is to pull aside the RPs, present them a hypothetical sit- uation — basic or challenging — and ask them to run through what they would do. Meeting RPs at their worksite and empha- sizing that the goal is to evaluate the train- ing, not the trainee, can make this less threatening for them. If an RP suggests something other than what was covered in the training, the manager should find out whether the RP is mistaken or has identi- fied a problem with current procedures. By repeating this for all shifts, a manager can identify what areas need to be reinforced or changed in the training as well as give critical corrective instruction if needed. Post-class assessments are one more way safety managers can help to ensure they are giving RPs what they need to lead and succeed. Blaine P. Connor, MA, Ph.D., is an associate service fellow with the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He can be reached at John Gallick is a retired mine safety executive.

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