STATEMENT OF DAVID D. LAURISKI
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR FOR
MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH
SUBCOMMITTEE ON LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION
COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE
October 21, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the ongoing efforts of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to promote miners' safety and health. It is especially gratifying to be here in Johnstown, near the site of the recent rescue of nine miners at the Quecreek mine. It is a pleasure to be in the company of our distinguished partners in that effort - Governor Schweiker and Mr. Hess. Another of our partners, Mr. Rebuck, will appear on the next panel.
I have spent virtually all of my life and career associated with the mining industry and I can tell you that I never before experienced the range of emotion that came with that event. I was concerned about the welfare of the trapped miners. I was prayerful that we could reach them and confident that we would. I was elated when we heard the miners' voices and knew they were safe. I was proud of the level of expertise shown by MSHA's safety and health professionals and the teamwork they exhibited. I was honored that we were part of a team that included the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, local governments, the mine operator, miners and the many volunteers who gave their time and effort to rescue the trapped miners. And I will never be able to express the emotion I felt when the ninth miner arrived safely at the surface. As all of us worked through the days and nights in the drizzling rain, we never lost hope.
Those who participated on the team at Quecreek were people who had a stake in the mission of our agency - to protect the health and safety of the Nation's more than 350,000 miners working at approximately 14,000 mining operations. Our stakeholders include miners, mine operators, labor organizations, industry organizations, equipment manufacturers, State agencies and others. As at Quecreek, we must all work as a team, as partners, to identify the causes of accidents and to take corrective action.
Quecreek No. 1 Mine
The Quecreek No. 1 Mine, operated by Black Wolf Coal Company, began production in March 2001. On July 24, 2002, at 9:40 pm, officials at the Quecreek No. 1 mine notified MSHA that water was rushing into the 1 left section and that 9 miners were unaccounted for. MSHA staff immediately issued an order under Section 103 (k) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) to ensure the safety of the miners. When MSHA issues such an order, the mine operator is required to obtain MSHA approval, in cooperation with the appropriate State representatives, for any plan to rescue or recover miners or to return the mine to normal operations. Three MSHA officials from the field office here in Johnstown, along with Commonwealth of Pennsylvania staff, arrived at the mine about 10:45 pm. MSHA technical support staff arrived at about 1:00 a.m.
In the course of the next three days, some 50 MSHA employees directly participated in the rescue, with many more working behind the scene. Our Mine Emergency Operations staff arrived bringing the MSHA Command Center. This is a bus-type vehicle that serves as a temporary on-site MSHA headquarters. It is equipped with several types of communication equipment, a conference area, and normal office equipment (fax and copy machines, etc). During a mine emergency, the Command Center is staffed around the clock by appropriate enforcement and technical personnel. MSHA employees worked with the State and the company to approve rescue plans. We used a seismic detection system to help detect the pounding signals produced by the trapped miners. And we called in mine rescue teams to enter the mine in the event it was necessary.
A drill rig was set up to drill a 6-1/2 inch borehole to be used in an attempt to establish communication with the miners. Starting in the early morning hours of July 25th, the drilling progressed until 5:06 a.m. when the 6-1/2 inch borehole broke through into the mine in the 1 left section. We were elated to hear tapping on the drill steel from underground. Later that morning, nine taps were again heard from underground and we were hopeful that the tapping meant all nine miners were alive. Throughout the rest of that day and the next day, pumps were put in place to pump water out of the mine. A large drill rig arrived on site to begin a large-diameter borehole that could be used as an escape shaft. At 10:16 pm on July 27, the escape drill hole broke through into the 1 left section of the mine. A communication system was lowered into the mine and we learned that all 9 miners were alive and in reasonable condition. Food and water were then lowered using the MSHA rescue capsule. I am sure most of you have seen pictures of the rescue capsule and know what it looks like. It was lowered by a crane and had a TV camera mounted on the bottom to provide continuous video of the borehole. Thirty years ago, a similar capsule was used to rescue two miners from a silver mine fire in Idaho. The present capsule was constructed after that. For 30 years, MSHA has maintained the capsule as part of our mine emergency equipment. We began to bring the miners up, one at a time, in the rescue capsule. At 2:45 a.m. on July 28, we pulled the last miner through the rescue shaft.
Maps of Abandoned Mines
While our investigation of this accident is ongoing, I can draw no final conclusions about the cause. However, there have been questions about the accuracy of the map of the abandoned Saxman mine, adjacent to the Quecreek Mine, on which the mine operator, Black Wolf, relied. The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 contained the first Federal requirement that a mine operator which permanently closes or abandons a coal mine must file with MSHA a certified up-to-date copy of the mine map. This requirement was carried over to the 1977 Mine Act and remains today. Some States have similar requirements that predate the 1969 Act and my colleagues can explain the Pennsylvania requirements. After receiving the final map, MSHA evaluates it to assure the map's depiction of elevations and closed-end developments of mine workings are accurate. MSHA retains the map at the district office and sends a copy of the map to the Office of Surface Mining of the U.S. Department of Interior. The Saxman mine, adjacent to Quecreek Mine, was abandoned prior to the 1969 Coal Act and, therefore, MSHA had no copy of their final map.
Maps for New Mines
MSHA requires that all new mines submit a mine ventilation map for approval before beginning operations. The map must be drawn or certified by a registered engineer or surveyor. The map must show all known mine workings that are located in the same coalbed within 1,000 feet of existing or projected workings, and the locations of all known mine workings underlying and overlying the seam to be mined, noting the distance between the workings. The map must also show the dip of the coalbed to allow for proper evaluation of mine drainage. When an advancing working place approaches within 200 feet of any mine workings of an adjacent mine located in the same coalbed, MSHA requires that the operator drill boreholes into and in advance of the working face. The 200-foot requirement provides a margin of safety to detect mine voids not shown on maps. Black Wolf Coal Company fulfilled its obligation to submit this map at the time of start-up. The map on the day of the accident did not indicate that mine workings at the Quecreek mine were within this 200-foot zone. We are examining Quecreek Mine records and maps as part of our investigation. You may be aware that our investigators located at a local museum what appears to be a portion of an old map of the Saxman Mine. The map differs from the map of Saxman Mine held by Black Wolf. Our investigators are studying this map and comparing it to the actual workings.
MSHA is addressing the issue of inundations from abandoned mines. We have conducted a risk assessment of mines throughout the country to determine the potential for similar breakthroughs. We immediately issued an order to our field staff to focus on mines with a potential for breakthrough and to work with individual mine operators to ensure that necessary steps are taken to protect against these types of incidents. We have established a task force of MSHA personnel who are working with other interested parties to review the availability, accuracy and quality of old mine maps. Next week we are sponsoring a national symposium on Geotechnical Methods for Mine Mapping Verification. We will gather miners, mine operators, academia, and State and Federal personnel to discuss the most current technology and safe work practices to avoid the hazards associated with abandoned mines and inaccurate mine maps. Geotechnical equipment companies will display the latest technology at the symposium. We are hoping that, by working together, we can identify technology that could be useful. In any case, old maps, many inaccurate, are what the industry has to work with to identify abandoned mines. We will soon have a Public Service Announcement asking that people turn in any old mine maps they might have. We will also review MSHA safety standards and practices to identify any appropriate changes.
There is another aspect of the problem of abandoned mines I would like to address. Every year, dozens of people are injured or killed while exploring or playing on mine property. There are over 14,000 active mine sites and there may be as many as 500,000 abandoned mines in the Nation. Last year, at least 31 children and adults died in recreational accidents on mine property. These deaths were the result of drownings, falls down abandoned mine shafts, and overturned ATV equipment. Hazards in underground abandoned mines include deep vertical shafts, horizontal openings supported by rotting timbers, unstable rock formations, lethal concentrations of deadly gases, water, and the presence of unused or misfired explosives. Both children and adults like to explore the tunnels and shafts, unaware of the inherent hazards. MSHA coordinates a national public awareness campaign to warn the public about the dangers of exploring and playing on mine property. More than 70 Federal and state agencies, private organizations, businesses and individuals have become active partners in the campaign. Over a two-week period each Spring, we deliver safety talks in schools throughout the country to educate children about the importance of steering clear of these sites. I am proud that we have this partnership program and know that we are saving children's lives.
Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine
Just ten months before the Quecreek accident, explosions at Jim Walter Resources Number 5 underground coal mine in Alabama killed 13 miners and injured 3 others. This tragic event touched the mining community deeply and continues to resonate throughout the mining industry. We are close to completing our investigation of that accident and writing the final report. Our investigation team will identify any and all facts that will assist us in preventing this type of disaster from occurring in the future. If appropriate, we will take enforcement action to address any deficiencies found during the investigation. Some stakeholders expressed concerns about MSHA practices at that mine prior to the accident. As a result of that concern, I have assigned an internal review team to investigate the quality of our management processes and procedures, including enforcement activities at the mine and the MSHA district in which it is located. The internal review, like the accident investigation, is continuing. I can assure you that any deficiencies identified will be fully addressed and corrected. Because of the ongoing investigation and review, however, I am not at liberty to discuss the particulars of that accident.
There have been tremendous advances in safety and health in the mining industry over the past 30 years. However, beginning in the mid-1990's, statistics show that continued improvement reached a plateau and we have seen no further significant reduction in non-fatal accident rates. I met with a significant number of our stakeholders to discuss this and to hear their concerns and views on how we can make mining safer. My staff met with hundreds more stakeholders. During these meetings, we heard concerns about MSHA's one-dimensional approach: The Agency has historically emphasized the enforcement mechanism embodied in the Act, focusing on physical conditions in the workplace. The Act, however, provides us with a broad range of tools, such as education and training-- compliance assistance--and technical support, in addition to enforcement. I believe the increased use of these additional tools will take us from the current plateau to the next level of improved safety performance. But let me be clear about one thing: Enforcement will continue to be a key component of our efforts and we will not lessen those efforts, as some have suggested.
While the mining industry has increased productivity and improved technology, the Agency has not significantly changed its business strategy since enactment of the Mine Act in 1977. Following our stakeholder meetings, we devised a management plan that will meet the challenges of the 21st Century and help move the mining industry to a new level of safety and health. The plan focuses on more collaboration with stakeholders, assistance to the industry in preventing accidents and illnesses, and improvements in our internal practices to enhance mine safety and health performance. I took this plan back to our stakeholders with the challenge for them to work with us to get to the next level of safety. And I asked for their commitment to work collectively with us to reduce accidents and illnesses. To this, they have agreed.
MSHA continues to actively enforce the Act. Last year, we completed 98 per cent of the mandatory four inspections per year at each underground coal mine and two inspections per year at each surface coal mine. But because some mines are open only part of the year, or because mines close before the end of the year, we will never reach 100 per cent statistically, though we still will have met our obligation. Over the years, the coal industry has contracted; the number of mines has significantly decreased. While coal production increased to a record level in 2001, overall coal consumption declined by 2 percent. The additional production was used to replenish depleted stockpiles that resulted from 2 years of declining coal production during which coal consumption had increased.
MSHA must adjust its resources to reflect this decrease in the number of coal mines. In FY 2002, MSHA began to "right-size" its workforce to respond to the decline. The budget for FY 2003 provides for us to continue adjusting to the reduced number of coal mines, yet provides us with sufficient resources to continue to meet our inspection obligations.
While the number of coal mines has decreased, there has been an upsurge in activity in the metal and nonmetal mining industry, especially in the crushed stone and sand and gravel sectors that supply the construction industry. There appear to be a number of reasons for this increase. For instance, the Transportation Equity Act provided funding for a significant number of new highway construction projects. Reduced interest rates have put home ownership within the reach of many citizens who otherwise would not have been able to afford to own their own home. Housing starts are up to meet this demand. These factors and others have resulted in the number of metal and nonmetal mines and miners steadily increasing over the past several years to meet the demand for construction materials and other products. In response to this increase, over time, we have been increasing the number of staff assigned to the metal and nonmetal program.
We recognize that we have had less success in completing the mandatory number of inspections in this industry than in the coal industry. Not only has there been an increase in the number of mines, the increase has been mostly in the aggregate industry, which has always been seasonal in nature. Completing mandatory inspections at seasonal mines is difficult. For example, a rock crushing operation may open to build a portion of a road. The operation would then be counted as a mine and we would schedule an inspection. However, when we arrive to make the inspection, that portion of the road may have been completed and the operation shut down. On paper, we have failed to conduct a mandatory inspection. In spite of the problem with seasonal mines, we hope to improve the inspection completion rate in FY 2003. The budget requests increasing the number of FTE assigned to the metal and nonmetal program.
In response to stakeholder comments, we have been conducting pro-active inspections. We have developed mine profiles that highlight the problem areas of any given mine. Our safety, health and compliance specialists concentrate on those areas or activities that are most likely to cause injuries or create health problems. We have trained these specialists to focus on overall safety and health matters and to identify system weaknesses that may lead to accidents. These weaknesses may involve violations of existing regulations or factors not covered by regulations.
We are making progress. Calendar Year 2001 was our safest year in history. We had a record-low number of fatalities in the mining industry. For the coal program, although the number of fatalities has increased in recent years, we remain convinced that as our initiatives are fully implemented, substantial improvements will be achieved. In fact, as of today, the calendar year-to-date number of coal fatalities is significantly below the levels of the previous three years.
We have analyzed the causes of this year's fatal accidents in the metal and nonmetal industry and have found that 59 per cent are a result of maintenance, repair or construction activities. As a result, we are currently conducting a two-week industry outreach program to specifically focus attention on the hazards present in these activities and to assist mine operators in implementing preventive practices. MSHA safety, health and compliance specialists are visiting mines to provide mining personnel with information on fatal accidents, best practices, and hazard awareness and recognition.
Earlier, I mentioned the plateau we reached in the mid-1990's when the nonfatal days lost injury rate (or NFDL) flattened. At about the same time, we saw a reduction in the number of significant and substantial (or S&S) violations at mines. S&S violations are those that have a reasonable likelihood to produce a serious injury or illness. As the NFDL injury rate decreased, the percentage of S&S violations decreased at about the same rate. That is exactly what we would expect to occur. Many mine operators have corrected the most serious hazards and this is reflected in the lower injury rate. This reflects the basic philosophy of the Mine Act - the declining number of serious violations correlates with the rate of decline in serious injury rates.
As I said earlier, we are concerned about this flattening of the injury and fatal incidence rates. However, the traditional enforcement scheme is no longer bringing a reduction in these rates. We must do more. The agency must utilize additional approaches. We must use our other tools. To do otherwise would be to accept the status quo; and accepting the status quo is NOT something we should be willing to do.
Training and Education
As I stated earlier, we must use all the tools of the Mine Act to bring further reductions in accidents and illnesses. Our stakeholders, from the individual miner at the mine to the CEO of a corporate mine operator, have told us that training for the mining industry is crucial to the success of our program to reduce accidents and illnesses. We are responding to their call for more user-friendly training materials for mine operators and miners. They also called for more on-site training where safe practices related to specific problems can be demonstrated. Our safety, health and compliance specialists are now providing such training when they uncover system deficiencies at mines. We are also exploring innovative approaches, such as web-based learning, DVDs, and the use of simulation devices. We continue to analyze accidents to determine patterns or trends so we can identify problems, find solutions, and create awareness through training and education.
Secretary Chao recently announced a major new compliance assistance initiative to help employers better understand and meet their responsibilities to protect workers. We know that the vast majority of mine operators want to comply but are often hampered by the volume and complexity of Mine Act regulations. If we are to get to the next level of safety, we need to recognize industry's cry for assistance and give them the help they need, not just to comply with regulations, but to have a broader view of how to identify and prevent hazards, and to provide miners with safe and healthful workplaces. We need partnerships where we share abilities and information. For example, we are developing materials on Best Practices culled from industry, labor, academia, and MSHA experience for use at all mines. Most importantly, we must assist mines with poor performance or limited resources.
In support of the Administration's initiative, we in MSHA have developed a Compliance Assistance Plan that sets out the specific steps we are taking to improve our outreach to mine operators and miners. Compliance assistance can mean different things to different people. We use the term broadly to identify concepts and accident prevention activities such as education and training, accident and violation analysis, hazard identification, root cause analysis, technical support, and access to information. Access to information means the information is readable, easily understood, and written in plain language the reader understands -- in other words, user-friendly. Because we know that there are increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking workers in the mining industry, we have translated numerous best practices cards, student and instructor guides, entire training programs, and handout materials. All of the materials on our web site are now available in Spanish.
Our web site, www.msha.gov, provides access to a multitude of resources for compliance assistance. In 2001, there were over 55 million "hits" on the MSHA web site, excluding those by agency employees. On the web site, we have posted a list of the 20 standards most often cited by major commodity and mining type and are beginning to post information on safe practices for each of those. On the web site, miners and mine operators can find safety tips, accident investigation reports, hazard alerts and bulletins, and single source pages as well as access to MSHA's Data Retrieval System.
Compliance assistance is always needed when new regulations are issued. I believe that the assistance should be rendered before the regulation becomes effective so that everyone is aware of their obligations and knows how to comply ahead of time. Our new final rule on hazard communication took effect on September 23, 2002 for mines with more than five miners. Prior to that date, we held 15 National Roll-Out Meetings and about 100 supplemental local meetings to give each of those mine operators the opportunity to learn how to comply with the rule. The rule will become effective on March 21, 2003 for mines with five or fewer miners. We are preparing to provide on-site compliance assistance to those mines before that date.
Operators of small mines face unique challenges in protecting their workers. In metal and nonmetal mining, about one-half of all mines employ five or fewer miners. In the coal industry, nearly one-fourth employ five or fewer miners. Small mines typically have fewer resources to devote to safety and health and often lack the expertise to implement accident prevention programs. Small mines have higher fatality rates. In calendar year 2000, mines with five or fewer employees had a fatal incidence rate four times greater than the rate at operations employing 20 or more. To bring small mines to the next level of safety, we are developing a Small Mine Initiative. We have established an Office of Small Mine Health and Safety in our Directorate of Educational Policy and Development. The Office will coordinate a national program to assure compliance at small mines and to give compliance assistance. The staff will determine the special needs of small mine operators and help develop programs to address those needs.
When developing regulations, we assess the impact of the regulations on all mines, and on small operators in particular. We will review existing regulations to determine applicability to current mining practices and to identify those that create an undue burden on small mine operators. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
I spoke with a mine operator in the bluestone industry who was the only miner at his operation located in the back yard of his home. MSHA's rules require that each mine have a stretcher to be used to transport injured miners. He asked me why he had to have a stretcher if there was no one to carry him out on the stretcher. My answer to him was that this was a prime example of a well-intentioned rule that was not flexible and which needs to be reassessed to allow alternate methods of complying with the intent of the rule, while maintaining equal safety and health protections. This is but one example where a one-size rule does not fit all.
MSHA has published several important final rules recently. The hazard communication rule, an information and training rule, will reduce injuries and illnesses related to chemicals in the mining industry by increasing miners' and mine operators' awareness of chemical hazards. The high-voltage longwall rule allows a mine to use current technology without the need to petition the Agency for a modification of a standard. This rule recognizes that advanced technology, already in widespread use in the mining industry, can be used safely when it meets stringent requirements.
We are working on rules that will address the continued risks associated with exposure to respirable coal mine dust. These rules would provide for verification of a mine operator's dust control plan to ensure it works effectively under typical mining conditions. Additionally, MSHA is considering a proposed rule that would allow the measurements of respirable coal dust taken during a single shift, in lieu of several shifts, to be used to determine the atmospheric condition to which a miner is exposed. These two rules would work in tandem to control coal mine respirable dust levels in mines and reduce miners' exposure to this extreme health hazard.
The Office of the Inspector General recommended that we take regulatory action on asbestos to address three issues. They recommended that we lower the existing permissible exposure limit for asbestos, change the analytical method we use to quantify and identify fibers in our asbestos samples, and address take-home contamination from asbestos. We issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March of this year requesting information and data from the public to assist us in our deliberations. We held seven public meetings on asbestos and solicited written comments. The public comment period closed in July. We are examining all of the testimony and written comments as we move forward in our decision-making process.
In January of 2001, MSHA published a final rule addressing the health hazards to underground metal and nonmetal miners from exposure to diesel particulate matter. The rule requires the use of approved equipment and establishes a concentration limit for DPM in the mine atmosphere. Some provisions of the rule were challenged in court. We entered settlement negotiations with the parties. I am happy to report that an agreement was reached and the legal challenge has been stayed pending implementation of the agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, MSHA delayed the effective date of one provision and clarified others. The interim concentration limit went into effect as scheduled and MSHA is providing compliance assistance for one year. Also, as part of the settlement agreement, MSHA has published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on several provisions.
Another rulemaking currently in process would provide a simplified compliance alternative for conducting methane tests during roof bolting in underground coal mines. The proposed rule is based on a joint recommendation by industry and labor organizations. We think this is an example of stakeholders working together to improve the rulemaking and compliance process.
We have just proposed a rule that would allow us to accept testing and evaluation of certain mine equipment by independent laboratories. We are also working on a proposed rule on the use of belt entry ventilation for coal mines that recognizes that improved technology, such as new atmospheric monitoring systems, may make it possible to safely use this type of ventilation.
These are the rules on which we intend to concentrate our resources. These are our priorities.
Our technical support staff includes experts on ventilation, roof support, dust control, electricity, ground stability, structural analysis, impoundment stability, mine fires and explosions, and chemical exposure. While mine operators provide rescue teams, MSHA gives technical assistance to the operators during mine emergencies. You saw our technical support people in action during the Quecreek rescue. Many parties drew on their expertise in the decisions on where to locate the miners, where to drill the boreholes, and the many other decisions that were critical during the successful rescue effort. Mine rescue is just one of the many ways we give technical assistance. These same individuals are creating partnerships with other government agencies, equipment manufacturers, mining companies, and trade and labor organizations to more effectively identify and evaluate technological solutions to mining hazards. We are also identifying new technologies to address emerging hazards.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I am very honored to be able to lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration. MSHA staff care deeply about the safety and health of America's miners. You witnessed this at Quecreek. Our stakeholders also care deeply. No one is satisfied that we have done all we can do to reduce accidents and illnesses. But we have reached a plateau and, according to the Law of Diminishing Returns, doing more of the same, operating under the old assumptions, will not necessarily bring further improvements or get us to the next level of safety. We have examined our way of doing business and devised the new management plan for the Agency that will emphasize enforcement, but will add to it by increasing training and education, compliance assistance, and technical support. I am confident that, working with our stakeholders, we can get to the next level of safety.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to respond to your questions.