Interview

„Every accident can be prevented“

Interview with Ulrich Meesmann and Helmut Ehnes

An ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) in the United States has been founded in response to a US congressional mandate in 2016 to assess monitoring and sampling approaches for informing underground coal mine operators' decision-making regarding the control of respirable coal mine dust and mine worker exposure.

The committee will:

  • Compare the monitoring technologies and sampling protocols (including sampling frequency) currently used or required in the United States, and in similarly industrialized countries for the control of respirable coal mine dust exposure in underground coal mines.
  • Assess the effects of rock dust mixtures and their application, as required by current U.S. regulations, on respirable coal mine dust measurements.
  • Assess the efficacy of current monitoring technologies and sampling approaches, and develop science-based conclusions regarding optimal monitoring and sampling strategies to aid mine operators' decision making related to reducing respirable coal mine dust exposure to miners in underground coal mines.

The committee will identify important research gaps regarding monitoring and sampling protocols for controlling miners' exposure to coal mine dust. Base of investigations will be the requirements of the US Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA's) final rule for lowering miners' exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The mandate does not extend as far as a change in this regulation is concerned, as the development of those requirements involves considerations beyond the scientific and technical focus of this study. Additional information on NASEM is available at www.nationalacademies.org.


With the attendance of ministers from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the 2017 BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting was held on the 26-27 July in Chongqing, China.

The meeting provided the BRICS countries’ Labour and Employment Ministers a platform to present a common position on the role of governance in the future of work. Importantly, an action plan for poverty alleviation and reduction through skills enhancement was adopted.

Further, it was agreed to establish a Network of Labour Research Institutes and a proposal for a Social Security Cooperation Framework was endorsed.

The ISSA, who together with the ILO, is the main international partner of this high-level political platform, contributed on the invitation of the Chinese Presidency with regard to two important initiatives.

First, the ISSA should lead the preparation of the Social Security Cooperation Framework, which represents the first collaborative structure for knowledge sharing between BRICS countries in this critical area. Significantly, the ISSA, together with the International Labour Office, will host the Secretariat of this novel initiative.

Second, the ISSA presented new survey findings reporting on the sustainability challenges facing the BRICS countries’ social security systems. The survey results identified the three most common challenges that confront BRICS social security administrations: coverage extension, higher public expectations and the technological transition. The survey demonstrated that BRICS countries have already implemented, or are planning to implement, a number of innovative responses to these challenges.

The report was received with great interest and ministers stressed the importance of the exchange of good practices to strengthen the sustainability of social security systems at times of rapid technological, social and economic change.

The ISSA Secretary General Hans-Horst Konkolewsky commented “The historic decision to establish a Social Security Cooperation Framework bears witness to the importance that the BRICS Ministers of Labour and Employment attach to knowledge sharing and to joint activities to secure universal and sustainable social security. I am very pleased about the important role the ISSA has played in the groundwork that will now permit the preparation of the Framework document. As co-host of the Secretariat, this will add a new dimension to the ISSA’s engagement, which since 2011 has facilitated greater cooperation between social security organizations in the BRICS countries”.

Heads of BRICS delegations with ISSA Secretary General

ISSA Mining’s prevention strategy VISION ZERO was adapted by all of ISSA’s prevention sections. The joint approach is going to be launched at the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2017 in Singapore. What is VISION ZERO, and what will it change in companies? ISSA Mining’s President Ulrich Meesmann and Secretary General Helmut Ehnes gave answers for the readers of the ISSA Mining Website.

What is VISION ZERO?

Ulrich Meesmann: Accidents at work or in road traffic are neither determined by fate nor unavoidable – they always have causes. The same goes for occupational diseases. VISION ZERO reflects a fundamental attitude based on the idea that every accident and every disease related to work can be prevented if the right measures are put in place in good time, and there is a particular focus on preventing accidents that lead to fatalities or permanent damage to health. At the time, we are worlds apart from this aim: 340 million accidents at work every year worldwide including 360,000 fatalities are a wakeup call.

Is “zero accidents” not an overambitious goal? Risks are a part of work, and so is time pressure. Do you really want to go so far to say there will be a working world with no accidents whatsoever?

Helmut Ehnes: There is two aspects you have to consider. One: How many accidents are okay? How many fatalities can we accept? You do not honestly want to explain to the widow and the orphans of a victim of a work accident that the event was to be expected statistically and, while tragic in the individual case, is still okay in the overall setting. Nothing is so important that it can be weighed up against human life. We can’t negotiate this.

And two: We see many operations which are at “zero” or very close to it already. Not in singular countries, not in “safe” sectors only. Whether a major enterprise or a small business: There is the ones demonstrating that zero harm is not an illusion, but can be achieved.

It might be true for successful companies with sufficient resources on safety and health as well. But aside from the top league, how can each average business reach the gold standard?

Ulrich Meesmann: Safety and health require leadership! Improving safety and health in the enterprise does not necessarily mean to increase spending. More important is that the management acts with awareness, leads consistently and builds a climate of trust and open communication at every level in the company. This can be achieved by any company willing to take the right steps consequently. To support employers and managers to continuously improve the safety and health conditions in their enterprise, the ISSA has developed a Guide to the 7 Golden Rules of VISION ZERO.

Helmut Ehnes: And let me add that prevention is not only a legal and moral obligation – it also pays off economically. Investments in safety and health at workplaces avoid human suffering and protect our most valuable asset – our health and our physical and mental integrity. Prevention also has a positive impact on the motivation of employees, on the quality of work and products, on the company’s reputation, and on the satisfaction levels of employees, managers and customers. Scientific studies prove that every dollar invested in safety and health generates a potential benefit of more than two dollars in positive economic effects – called the “Return on Prevention”. So considering safety and health as a cost factor only would not get the whole picture of a successful business.

You have mentioned “7 Golden Rules”. What are they?

Ulrich Meesmann: Thanks to our global network, we had the privilege of gaining plenty of insight into the industry across the world. We realize that a lack of regulations is hardly the problem anywhere; but what about transferring the often complex standards into the reality of businesses? This is where we notice a huge gap in many cases. Understanding that clear and structured steps are called for, ideally harmonized across borders, we extracted what we believe to be the core factors of highly successful safety and health. We created a practical management tool for developing a strong safety and health culture, using motivational and very brief explanations and checklists for seven vital fields: In designing this “Guide”, over 1,000 employers, executives, managers, prevention experts, workers’ representatives and labor inspectors have been asked about best practices. We structured these around the 7 Golden Rules.

What is the feedback you receive on this?

Helmut Ehnes: Terrific. We introduced our approach at numerous international events and meetings, to a vast array of stakeholders. Wherever we discussed it, we received a sound very positive feedback and many times the willingness to implement our concept right away. It simply works. The unanimous decision of all 13 prevention sections of the ISSA was a major milestone for us, as it means that ISSA’s entire network will promote VISION ZERO and the 7 Golden Rules across all sectors of industry, all around the world. As we now all speak with one voice, we stand a good chance to reach a new level in safety and health and to make a real difference. We are talking about no less than life and health!

It sounds promising indeed. What is your personal outlook?

Ulrich Meesmann: Implementing the “VISION ZERO” prevention strategy is an ambitious undertaking that requires the dedication and participation of many actors. One thing is clear: Dedicated employers and executives, motivated managers and vigilant employees will ultimately determine the success or failure of implementing the VISION ZERO strategy. Our tools will give a sound base to start. Use ISSA’s VISION ZERO Guide, the online resources and seminars. Come and see for yourself in Singapore what is all in stock for you!

Mr Meesmann, Mr Ehnes, thank you very much!