Leaders should check adherence to laws from time to time

To a coal mine production foreman, having an inspector on his section made for a difficult day. The federal statutes fill a document almost an inch thick. Add to that a number of even more strict state laws and you have a formidable set of regulations. Most of these laws came into being as a result of an investigation of an explosion or fatality. However, the complexity of these requirements made compliance and coal production virtually incompatible. I understood the need for the laws, but if we couldn’t mine coal, the laws were moot. As a section foreman, I ran my section, as did my peers, with an adherence to the intent of the law. None of us ignored a federal inspector. Each of us knew that we were personally liable for a $5,000 fine and five years in prison for a willful violation.

To satisfy an inspector, you have to mine a certain amount of coal. If not, the inspector returned each day until you did. The inspector’s presence was stressful on everyone. Even the miners pitched in and worked hard to obtain the required amount or production.

Occasionally, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would conduct a raid. One morning, I saw 15 unannounced inspectors arrive at the mine office. Each section foreman was afforded his own personal pair of inspectors for the day. A lot of violations were written but little coal was mined.

Another day, when I had an inspector on my section, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did he restrain from writing me a violation, but he actually gave me helpful advice on how to mine. The next day, however, I had the same inspector on my section with different results. He started writing violations as soon as he arrived on the section. One of the federal laws required me to personally check the gas in every working face every 20 minutes even though the continuous miner had an electronic methane detector. When the inspector was on section, I generally tried to do my inspections in the required time frame. At other times, I merely checked the area immediately before the mining operation began. On this day, I had a stuck scoop car blocking my next cut. I was consumed with getting it out when our safety director came over and informed me that the inspector was writing a violation. It had been 27 minutes since my last gas check. I was seven minutes late.

The mining culture of the 1970s was adversarial with federal and state inspectors. In the 1980s, federal inspectors tried to include collaboration and teaching. When I left the mine in 1982, the relationship was improving.

Every leader needs to understand the requirements of state and federal laws and company policies imposed upon them. Laws are necessary and leaders need to occasionally review their adherence to them.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.