What sixties hippie could resist a DVD called Zen and the Art of Rock Bolting? Here is my opinion about a NIOSH health and safety DVD: I wax lyrical and enthusiastic for a minor masterpiece I recommend to all who seek to understand mining and miners.
Last night I settled down in front of the TV with a stiff drink and a DVD from NIOSH called Zen and the Art of Rock Bolting. The stiff drink to fortify me against another health and safety video–for we have all seen some of those terribly cloying productions as we sat trapped in yet another health and safety update course. I had been asked for my opinion on this and seven other NIOSH productions.
The drink went down well, and yet another followed, not from distress, but from admiration and enjoyment. This is a damn good DVD movie. Fascinating in fact. I have recommended it to all my friends and relations and I will get the young kids around InfoMine here to watch it one lunch time.
The premise is simple: Film an old miner showing a newbe how to drill a hole in an Idaho mine, bolt the rock, and break away the loose rock that could make the area unsafe. The genius of this movie is the old miner. NIOSH wisely chose a real miner with 40 years experience. What an engaging fellow. Rough yet wise. Careful yet casual. Devoted to mining and what it brings: competition, money, and the rapid passage of the work hours.
This is an engaging portrait of a miner: his motivations; his method; and his happy perspective. This is a short story about one man of humor and integrity and hard work. This is a perfect balance to the greed and madness of the “miner” in There Will be Blood. This is the person in the mine; not the person exploiting the miner.
I know this DVD was made to instruct, not entertain. But I submit that the makers inadvertently stumbled on so fascinating a person, that they succeeded in making a minor masterpiece. You must see it if you seek to understand the miner and mines. And you should see it if you just want to see an unintentional piece of fine movie making. Enjoy.
Later (12 Feb 2008). I add the following that i received via e-mail from Elaine T. Cullen who with CDC/NIOSH/SRl made this small masterpiece:
Hi Jack…I’ve been sharing your blog comments with some of the folks who worked on that project, and they have been very pleased. This was a federal project as you know, and to be honest, most of the engineers we work in the mining lab with were totally mystified by the name. They thought maybe it was a religious film. (I’m pretty sure they have never heard of Robert Pirsig and his motorcycle.) We caught a lot of heat on that film just because it didn’t fit any mold ever made of what a “gommint” safety training video should look like (one of its charms, in my opinion.)
I think it captures the culture of hard rock mining, however, and the evaluation studies we did of it when it was released included a question on whether the viewer would want to learn mining from Jim Mortensen. Amazingly, 100% said yes…it didn’t matter if they were new hires or experienced miners. Experience has shown me that it’s hard to get 100% of people to agree on what day it is, so this was quite a surprise. The message to us (and the research question that was invisible to all but the development team) was that it IS possible to capture the wisdom and expertise of experienced miners, and this is a very effective way to teach new people…he has a lot of credibility and they listen to him.
I am leaving federal service at the end of this month and, if I could work on one project now that I believe would improve mine safety training, it would be to start capturing people like Jim Mortensen before they leave the industry (which is happening every day). They have survived and thrived as miners because they were good…it would be a pity to lose what they know. I have proposed a project to begin gathering the “oral histories” of these guys, that can be used as an electronic library of stories and lessons for developing new training in any topic. Great project, but I have no idea how to get it funded!
Maybe you can help.