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Conditioning the Cave for Safety

>>AMY SUSAN: Hi.  I’m Amy Susan, Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Labor.  On this week’s edition of Labor Talk, a podcast where experts discuss workplace issues that affect your life, I’m joined here with Denny Mathis.  He is the State Cave Inspector, and Ricky Barnes.  He is the Cave Supervisor.  We’re here at the Meramec Caverns.  We’re on location at the largest cave, public cave, here in the State of Missouri.  So welcome to the show, guys.

>>RICKY BARNES: Thanks for having us.

>>DENNY MATHIS: Thank you.

>>SUSAN: Let’s go ahead and talk about what happens or what does the state do to ensure that public caves are safe for the public?

>>MATHIS: Well, we are basically looking out for the safety through removal of any hazards that we might find, whether it be a handrail, you know, a barrier of any kind, any electrical faults or problems that we see, loose wires, covers off, and just slippery surfaces and that sort of thing.

>>SUSAN: So, Denny, can you tell us how many public caves there are in the State of Missouri?

>>MATHIS: There’s 22.

>>SUSAN: Okay.

>>MATHIS: That we inspect right now that are open.

>>SUSAN: Explain some of the typical concerns or issues that you see in some of the caves.

>>MATHIS: I worry more about any more slip, trips and falls.  That is the biggie, and if--if, you know, it depends on the type shoes they wear.  There’s nothing that says what they’ve got to wear.  It depends on a lot of things, but if I come in and there’s water on the surface, then we want to get that removed.

>>SUSAN: Would you say that the public and individuals that come to caves, such as Meramec Caverns, should feel safe when they visit?

>>MATHIS: Yes, I do.  One thing we require, too, the certificate that we give out every year that my supervisor signs, and because of my inspection said, hey, that this is okay.  That, by law, is supposed to be posted in a conspicuous place where all the public can see it.  Therefore, it’s kind of like have you ever been on an elevator?

>>SUSAN: Yes, I have.

>>MATHIS: And you see the certificate.  You have the right to go to the office and see when that elevator was inspected.  Our certificate is posted in a plain place where everybody can see it and they--they should know that it’s a safe place to go.

>>SUSAN: Okay.  How often are caves inspected each year?

>>MATHIS: We inspect a cave once a year and if in the event that--that when you go back and do a follow up due to something that we might have found earlier, then we go back and do a follow up inspection.

>>SUSAN: Now, Ricky, I’m gonna talk to you a little about what you do here at Meramec Caverns.

>>BARNES: All Right.

>>SUSAN: Can you tell us how old this cave is?

>>BARNES: The cave is estimated to be somewhere between three to four hundred million years old, and that actually dates back to when the entire Midwest was covered by a sea called the Great Inland Sea.  That’s when it was formed.

>>SUSAN: So when did it actually become open to the public?

>>BARNES: Meramec Caverns opened to the public in 1933.  The owner of the cave at that time was Lester Dill, and he purchased the cave with the sole purpose of making it a tourist attraction and giving tours through it.  So for 78 years now, somewhere along those lines, it’s been opened up to the public.

>>SUSAN: Wow.  So how many people do you think have actually been in this cave?  How many people do you see every year?  Let’s start there.

>>BARNES: This day and age we’re getting around 100,000 people a year come through the cave.  Over, I mean, you’re talking in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s it was much more popular.  Much more people came through then, but this time about 100,000 a year, which is not too shabby, actually.

>>SUSAN: So there’s a lot of people coming here.  Can you tell us why they’re here?  What attractions do you guys all have?

>>BARNES: We have a lot of unique cave formations.  We have one of the rarest cave formations in the world, which is the wine table or a aragonite formation.  There’s only two in existence.  One is in Sicily, so real far away from here.  The other’s here, right here in Meramec Caverns.  And ours is also much larger than the one in Sicily.  And then we have our crown jewel, which is the stage curtains, which is a huge formation that we do a light show on also.  But it’s a very unique cave that offers a little bit of everything for people to see.

>>SUSAN: Last but not least and more importantly, have you discovered Jesse James’ loot?

>>BARNES: I think people’s been looking, but I don’t think it will ever be discovered.  I think he took that with him when he left.

>>SUSAN: It's not here.

>>BARNES: Not here, no.

>>SUSAN: That's probably why you're still here, right? You're still looking.

>>BARNES: Still looking, always looking.

>>SUSAN: Well, Ricky, thank you again for taking us on the tour and, Denny, for taking us on the inspection into the cave.  We really appreciate it.  And if you all have any questions or concerns or comments, please visit labor.mo.gov.  Click on News and Notices and then click on Labor Talk Podcast.