The Northwest Mining Association's 107th Annual Meeting
GeoDestiny: Resources for the Future
December 7, 2001
Good morning. Here it is, the last day of the conference. I hope it's been an enjoyable and productive week for all of you. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today's session on legislative and regulatory affairs.
I'd like to thank the Northwest Mining Association's executive director Laura Skaer for inviting me to share with you my views on safety and health within the mining industry.
I am pleased to see mining representatives from so many parts of this country and even beyond our own boundaries. More and more, the barriers that exist between U.S. mining operations and those abroad are disappearing. We've entered into a period where we need to share and exchange information, technical expertise and new ideas about how to make our mines healthier and safer.
In this country, the mining industry faces a new set of challenges in this new millennium. We need to better communicate the value of mining, to educate the public about how minerals fuel our economy and make our high-tech lifestyles possible. Environmental issues also remain a hot topic.
Sadly, we're seeing the closure of some venerable mining institutions, such as the Sunshine Mine and Homestake's Mine in Lead, South Dakota. Yet, at the same time, other mines are expanding and some new ones opening. And the demand for energy will surely continue to grow.
We have some of the safest mines in the world....we need to keep them that way, and we need to do even better. At the same time, we face an aging mine workforce and the challenge of recruiting and training a new generation of miners.
As members of a 106-year-old organization that is 2,500 members strong, you are a critical component of our future success. I appreciate your support for safety and health. I hope you will continue to be active and continue to seek ways to improve the mining industry as a whole.
I would also like to recognize a group that, for more than 50 years, has been instrumental in conducting in-depth research in the name of making mining safer and healthier -- the Spokane Research Lab, which celebrated its golden anniversary this year as one of the nation's premier mine safety and health research centers.
Through their intense dedication and unquenchable curiosity, the research staff has never veered from its course and its mission to keep miners safe in the workplace. They continued in that dedication when five years ago the Bureau of Mines ceased to exist and the laboratory became part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
I also applaud their receipt for the second consecutive year, of the Alice Hamilton Award, which recognizes exemplary research in the area of occupational safety and health.
Thank you for all that you do for the mining industry.
I guess it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has heard me speak that the safety and health of the nations' miners is a passion with me. For more than 30 years, mining and mine safety and health have been in my blood.
And now, for the past six months, I have had the honor of leading the Mine Safety and Health Administration under the direction of President George W. Bush and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.
This job is unlike any I've ever held, but in both the mining industry and government, there is a constant -- that being the safety and health goals are exactly the same. Only the methods we have available to effect change are sometimes different. We all want to reduce injuries and illnesses to the lowest possible levels.
So let's start by looking at where we stand, with less than a month to go in 2001.
As of today, the metal and nonmetal mining industry has experienced 29 fatalities. That compares with 46 at this time last year. If the trend continues for the next few weeks, the metal and nonmetal mining industry is positioned to finish the year with possibly the lowest annual number of fatalities ever recorded. We can all be proud of that -- but by no means should we be satisfied.
In mid-September, the record of the coal mining industry also was looking good compared with last year. Then, as you know, came a serious setback with the explosion at the Jim Walter No. 5 mine in Alabama that killed 13 miners.
It was a tragic accident, most of all because 12 of those who died were responding to help victims of the first explosion, when a second explosion struck.
MSHA officials responded immediately, and have maintained an around-the-clock presence ever since. Sadly, during the initial rescue attempts, only one missing miner could be recovered, and he later died in the hospital. Hope for the other miners faded, and the mine rescue teams were forced back by hazardous conditions.
Just before Thanksgiving, the rescue teams recovered the last of the bodies. These teams deserve our utmost respect and thanks for their own acts of bravery, working in extremely difficult conditions.
Since the accident, I've made two trips to Alabama. I've met with company officials, the UMWA and state representatives. MSHA is now conducting a thorough, professional investigation. Our focus is to determine the facts in order to get at the root cause of the accident, and to find ways to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again.
Turning again to the subject of accidents in general......even before the accident at Jim Walter No. 5, and even with the favorable overall trend, there were a few signs suggesting reasons for concern clusters of accidents, causing not only non-fatal injuries, but clusters of fatal injuries.
Since then, there have been eight fatalities in metal and nonmetal mining six in October, and two just this week. Three of those involved powered haulage, which continues as the leading cause of fatal accidents. Seven deaths occurred in coal mines in November.
Because of these trends, I recently suggested that mine operators ask their employees to take a brief time-out, or "stand down for safety," and talk about the recent accidents and trends, and to re-evaluate safety practices and procedures.
Reaching every miner on every shift in our nation's mines is a tall order. So, we've mailed out packets of safety information that can be used at the mines. We've posted information on MSHA's web site.
We're asking all mine operators, regardless of mine type, to take a hard look at safety practices to talk to employees about hazards on the job. We're asking for a review of any safety procedures in place and that those procedures are updated and well-understood by all miners.
A nationwide "stand down for safety" in the mines is a new idea. But by itself, it is not enough to create long-term improvements. Long-term improvements will demand long-term action. But what kind of action? The answer to that cannot come from MSHA alone.
Six months ago, I promised that this agency would do a better job of keeping in touch with our stakeholders.
We've held dozens of meetings in mining communities throughout the country, asking for feedback on what we can do better, and most importantly, what we can do together. I've attended a number of these meetings, and have had the opportunity to meet with mining organizations, including some of yours.
At the same time I've traveled to mining operations from east to west. I've visited MSHA field offices in almost every coal and metal/nonmetal district. I've met with labor representatives, mine operators, miners and many others to solicit ideas as well as offer assistance.
We've heard several common themes from our stakeholders.
One was training. You've told us that you needand wantmore effective training. I certainly support this ideal. If we are going to reduce mining accidents, we will have to better prepare our miners and supervisors to perform their work tasks safely. We must insure that our miners and supervisors are able to identify and control hazards in the workplace.
We're reviewing what people in the mining community have told us about new miner training as well as experienced miner training, language barriers, and Parts 46 and 48. We're looking closely at ways in which MSHA can help the mining industry create and maintain a superbly trained mine workforce.
MSHA's own health and safety specialists also need improved training
training that will bring us in line with the workforce and workplaces of the 21st Century.
Another common theme in our stakeholder meetings was compliance assistance. Many mine operators would like MSHA to provide more advice and education to mine operators on keeping the workforce safe and preventing violations.
A third theme was improving the inspection process. Both industry and labor representatives suggested that we look at possible ways to make the most effective use of MSHA's health and safety specialties during an inspection.
Other common themes concerned getting more and better use of the data we collect; special assistance for small mines; and making the regulatory process more collaborative.
I have asked MSHA's top managers to take the comments of our stakeholders to heart. These comments harmonize with my view that MSHA can, and should, be more than an enforcement agency.
Let me be clear this does not mean less enforcement. We will change the way we function, but any change will be within the confines of the Mine Act.
We must reach and maintain a healthy balance among those things the Mine Act mandates: enforcement, education and training which includes compliance assistance and technical support. We must become pro-active, and not just re-active. We must always make safety and health our prime value by which we judge any action we decide to take.
And early next year, I expect to announce specific steps that we will take in 2002 to bring the way we do business more closely in line with this philosophy and what we have learned from our stakeholders.
Our goal over the next four years for the mining industry is to reduce the number of fatalities by 15 percent per year and to reduce our non-fatal days lost rate by 50 percent over this same four-year period. This will not be easy, but with your help and commitment, these goals will be achieved.
Our goals on the health side consist of:
-- Reducing the percentage of respirable dust samples in coal mines that exceed the applicable standards, by 5 percent each year;
'reducing the percentage of silica samples in metal and nonmetal mines exceeding the applicable standards, by 5 percent each year; and
'reducing the percentage of noise exposures above the action level that would trigger a citation.
Currently, we're working with the mining community on several key health issues. Some of these concern regulations, while others concern education and training and technical support.
As I said earlier, any regulation we recommend will not be done without the most serious consideration. It must make a significant difference in advancing miner health and safety, or else it is superfluous.
And in the case of new proposed regulations, we will also ask for and consider input from all sectors of the mining community in order to achieve the most workable, effective regulations possible.
Consider the case of MSHA's proposed HazCom regulation.
After it was published as an interim final rule, we felt that our stakeholders had not had sufficient time to give input.
In order that you would have that opportunity, we delayed the interim final rule. This delay would also help assure that mine operators would have sufficient time to determine how best to achieve compliance, and for our health and safety specialists to be well-versed in the rule, its requirements and its purpose.
Then there are the diesel particulate regulations for metal and nonmetal mines. After industry challenged these rules, we started a dialogue that helped break down the areas of disagreement. Together with industry and labor representatives, we devised an agreement on some key provisions that could go into effect and would start addressing health concerns immediately.
We were able to agree on conducting joint sampling that should answer the questions that many people have about the reliability of the sampling device and the permissible levels of exposure.
This past summer, MSHA also conducted a series of one-day workshops to assist metal and nonmetal underground mine operators in complying with the final rule on diesel particulate matter.
These examples, illustrate that, while there may be disputes, we can resolve a great many of them when we work together.
Earlier this week, the Department of Labor announced its new regulatory agenda for the coming year. If you have seen it, you will notice that it is quite a bit shorter than some past agendas.
In the coming year we plan to focus our attention strictly on the most critical regulatory areas for mine safety and health. Instead of spreading our time and attention over a large number of rulemaking projects, we will concentrate on a smaller number and on getting them done.
In that list, of course, are major pending health rules like HazCom, exposure to diesel particulate, and coal mine dust sampling. We also plan to address the exposure limit for asbestos in the mining industry.
We plan to move ahead with rulemaking projects on safety issues such as high-voltage longwall equipment for coal mines, and a rule to allow the use of independent laboratory testing for mine equipment approvals.
In this process, your input will be critical. I hope that we will continue to work together on the basis of mutual respect, sharing information so that any resulting rules will be workable, effective and provide safer and healthier workplaces.
I've already said how much I appreciate the support of your organization and its membership as we work to improve safety and health in the mines. Before closing, I'd also like to mention how much we appreciate the Northwest Mining Association's participation in the community safety program, "Stay Out-Stay Alive." I hope you'll continue to take part in educating children, their parents and their communities at large about the dangers of exploring and playing in both active and abandoned mine sites.
For the past three years we have been doing our best to track the number of fatal accidents that happen on mine property to young people, recreationists and others who stray onto mine property or explore old mining sites. This year, we have identified 31 such deaths nationwide. Five of those accident victims were aged only 10 or 11. And that figure of 31 does not count some scary near misses, like a 16-year-old who got entrapped in a refuse pile but was finally rescued.
Next April, MSHA once again will be joining forces with some 70 partners all over the country in a concerted, all-out campaign to get the word out that neither active nor abandoned mines are safe playgrounds. We also need to continue spreading the message all year. Only last January, two little boys drowned at a gravel pit right here in Washington State, when they fell through the ice of a half-frozen lake.
I hope all of you will make a commitment to help get the word out on "Stay Out-Stay Alive" in 2002.
Whether it concerns our workplaces, our communities or ourselves, we must commit to making safety a value. We must understand that safety is more than a number and it certainly is more than just a word.
Safety is a workplace where operators and miners alike know their performance is not just their production, but it is their safe production. Valuing safety are people who concentrate on doing things safely every day, because they care about each themselves and about each other. Valuing safety is a child who can trust that Dad -- or Mom -- will be coming home safe and healthy from the mine each and every day.
So let's reaffirm our commitment every day to be vigilant, alert an steadfast in our jobs. We've got some incredible opportunities ahead of us, and looking around the room I see the faces of people who are the least likely to run away from such opportunities.
Sure, we have ambitious safety and health goals. But working together, imagine what we can achieve. We can save lives, prevent painful injuries and illnesses, and prevent losses that affect miners, their families and companies.
When we achieve those goals, think of how proud we can be to have been a part of those accomplishments.
Again thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. We at MSHA wish each of you and yours a happy and safe holiday season. God bless you and God bless America.