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Remarks
Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
62nd Annual Meeting of the
Kentucky Mining Institute
Prestonsburg, Kentucky
August 24, 2001

Introduction

It's a real pleasure to be here today.

I'd like to thank the Kentucky Mining Institute for this opportunity to address you and talk about some of my views and goals for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the coming years.

I'd also like to congratulate the seven teams that participated in the annual Kentucky State Mine Rescue Contest this week.

I should mention that the Sentinels of Safety awards were announced this week, and one of the participating rescue teams represents Peabody Coal, whose Martwick Mine achieved an exceptional safety record of 92,219 employee work hours without a lost-time injury in 2000. Congratulations, Martwick!

I've now been with MSHA for a little over three months. My time so far has been interesting, enlightening - and yes, at times - even exhilarating.

You see, mining and mine safety have been in my blood for more than 30 years.

I am extremely passionate about protecting the safety and health of our nation's miners. And I am deeply honored that President Bush chose me for work in public service - in particular, to lead an organization whose mission is to protect the health and safety of the miners.

I've tried to make it a point during these past three months to reach out beyond Agency headquarters and visit as many members of the mining community and MSHA employees around the country as possible.

Whatever we can do to assist mine operations to be safe operations, please let me know. I am here today to learn as much about your needs as to tell you what I hope to accomplish in my new position.

Upon entering this job, I've become responsible for all aspects of MSHA's role and, in particular, those areas mandated by the Mine Act - enforcement, education and training, and technical support. There are a great many issues to be learned quickly and decisions waiting to be made. I have tried to come to the task with an open mind and very few preconceptions.

I am listening intensively to groups and individuals throughout the mining community in order to understand the perspectives of all our stakeholders. In this, your input is extremely important to me and critical to our mission of improved health and safety performance for this country's mining industry.

While we may not always agree, and I may choose to move in a different direction than you might like, I will at least have the benefit of your thoughts before I make a reasoned decision.

And my decision(s) will always be in the interest of miner health and safety.

Safety issues

Everyone in the mining community can take pride in the health and safety record that our industry has achieved over the past few decades.

These strides really hit home for me last week in Beckley, West Virginia. Many of you know that the National Mine Health and Safety Academy just celebrated a noteworthy anniversary. You may have taken part in the celebration yourselves.

Twenty-five years ago, the Academy opened its doors for mine safety and health training. Since 1976, hundreds of thousands of mine inspectors, miners, mine operators and other industry personnel from this country and around the world have taken advantage of the Academy's vast array of resources, classroom instruction and hands-on activities.

The year the Academy first opened, there were 141 fatal coal accidents and 113 fatal metal and nonmetal accidents. Compare that with last year's figures of 38 fatalities in coal and and 48 in metal and nonmetal.

That's real progress.

Those of us who participated in the Academy celebration - including Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and several hundred others - definitely felt a deep sense of pride and accomplishment in the health and safety strides of the past 25 years.

At the same time, we know that even one mine fatality is one too many.

Over the past five years, our progress in reducing fatal accidents has shown signs of slowing and may, in fact, have leveled off.

In terms of fatal accidents, the metal and nonmetal mining industry actually enjoyed its safest year in 1994, with a record low count of 40 fatalities. The coal industry had its safest year in 1998, with a total of 29 deaths.

Clearly, there is more progress for us to make.

In addition, we need to consider injuries that are not fatal. In my first few days on the job, an accident occurred in which five employees at a clay plant suffered serious burns. While no one was fatally injured, such an incident is devastating, and preventing such accidents in the future, as well as those not so serious, surely deserves our full and relentless attention.

Thankfully, most nonfatal accidents are not so severe, but all of them have a personal impact on miners, their families, and the mining community.

Included in this burden is an economic effect on the miners, their families, and the companies who employ them.

Preliminary figures show that last year, coal miners experienced more than 6,000 nonfatal, reportable injuries. Metal and nonmetal miners experienced more than 9,000 such injuries. About two-thirds of the reported injuries were severe enough to cause lost work time.

To put that in perspective, the nonfatal injury record for the mining industry in recent years is substantially better than in the past, but has also showed signs of leveling off. With some 15,000 individual incidents, it is obvious that there is significant room to improve.

Improving the health and safety of the mining industry also should improve the economic performance as well. Costs of every injury and illness include not only worker's compensation costs, but also costs due to medical treatment, lost productivity, lost earnings, and downtime.

There is also the cost of conducting an investigation, administrative costs, increased compensation premiums, and often, damage to mine equipment and property.

There may also be a cost in terms of morale and job turnover, and other factors that one could consider. A recent study, on a preliminary basis, suggests the cost of the average lost-workday injury in mining could be on the order of $10,000 to $30,000 per incident. Even that figure is suspect, and it does not include job-related illnesses.

Good health and safety performance contributes to high productivity, lowers costs and so enhances job security.

It also is obvious that to achieve further progress will take more than just to keep doing what we are doing. For instance, who believes that inspections for compliance, by themselves, will create further progress? The fact that the progress has slowed indicates we need to do something more.

Accordingly, we at MSHA have set specific accident reduction goals for reducing fatalities, injuries and illnesses annually throughout the mining industry.

I have suggested that we reduce fatal occurrences by 15 percent per year for the next four years, and a 50 percent reduction in the NFDL rate over the next four years. This, of course, will require the commitment and help of all who work in the mining business. It can be achieved, and with your help it will.

If, or I should say when, we achieve these goals we will have an average NFDL rate of 1.72 and will have reduced the number of fatalities by 45. Can you imagine how good that will feel, to know that we all contributed to that progress -- a feeling that many of us have for the progress to date?

On the health side, a side we often forget, we've set specific performance goals as well. Our objectives are:

We need to:

We will truly need your help and commitment to achieve these performance objectives.

Beyond that, we are going to be looking at our own health and safety performance and aggressively acting to reduce MSHA's own injury and illness rates. We have an obligation to ourselves, our families, our stakeholders and the taxpayer to perform in an exemplary manner. I have discussed this with senior staff, and efforts are under way to reduce our own rates of injury and illness incidence. (These figure are higher than the national average for mining. We would target a mine operator with these rates, so I am going to target ourselves to get these rates down.)

All this is even more critical in light of the recent increased demand for energy and minerals. Throughout the Eastern coalfields, mine operators are reporting increased demand and, in many cases, they are reporting shortages of qualified miners to meet that demand. We also have an increased demand for stone, sand, gravel and other construction minerals in some parts of the country.

Further, there is a real concern as to where the new miners are going to come from, with young people not wanting to work in mines and, in the opinion of some, not enough experienced miners to draw from.

It is possible to gear up production without seeing a rise in accidents as well. We all need to be sure we do not allow our progress in safety and to be compromised in this process.

As I said, I come to this job without any "canned" answers to the question of how we can restore our earlier rate of health and safety progress.

I have a few ideas, and I am going to listen closely to your ideas as well. It will take creative thinking on the part of all of us -- this much I know.

In that regard, we know that engineering and technical fixes will be part of the mix. Along with Secretary Chao, I am very much interested in new solutions to old problems that 21st century technology may be able to supply.

Clearly, we also need to address human actions. While many -- perhaps most -- accidents have multiple causes, human behavior is the biggest part of the equation.

By the way, when I talk about human behavior, that emphatically does not mean a focus on blame.

In conducting accident investigations, for instance, we need to pay attention to facts, not fault. What happened? What was the actual sequence of events? What causation factors were identified, and so on?

Ultimately, finding facts determines responsibility. But that is quite different from starting out with the idea of finding blame. An inappropriate focus on blame forces people to be apprehensive and defensive. A close, respectful attention to facts will teach us how we can prevent similar accidents in the future.

As useful as it is to learn from serious accidents, it is even better to learn to prevent accidents before they happen. That includes giving our attention to "near misses." Every year in the mining industry, and most likely every day, as in every area of life, we do see, and in many cases, experience incidents that might possibly have had very serious consequences. We need to take these occurrences seriously, treat them as warnings, and use them as opportunities to make changes before someone is harmed.

I can say that, as long as I am at MSHA, education and training will be very important to me. We will be putting significant resources and attention into training miners - as well as supervisors and MSHA employees - for the mine workplace of the 21st Century.

And what about educating the mining community at large? The families of miners, the consumers who use mining products -- which is virtually every member of modern American society.

Now more than ever is a golden opportunity to enlighten the citizens of this country to the significant contributions all forms of mining make toward our daily comfort and progress.

That goes for the downside of mining as well. I'm talking about the inherent dangers that exist at mine sites, not just for the mine worker who, fortunately, is trained to head off danger and minimize personal risk, but for the individuals who have no idea what hazards they may be exposed to if they enter mine property unauthorized, unsupervised and untrained.

I'm referring to the explorer, the adventurer, the rockhound. The group of teens who head out to the "ole swimming hole" - the abandoned quarry outside of town - on a hot summer afternoon. Or the adventurous youths who take their ATVs four-wheeling at a remote strip mine. I can't tell you how many of these incidents end in tragedy.

Over the past three years, more than 50 non-miners have died in accidents on active and abandoned mine property.

Even though MSHA's enforcement authority does not cover abandoned properties, these numbers are too disturbing to ignore.

Consequently, "Stay Out-Stay Alive" was born. It's a national public awareness effort aimed at keeping kids and adults safe from harm on mine property. Nearly 70 organizations around the country have joined this effort.

I have seen up close the kinds of tragedies that this campaign tracks.

In 1996, in my home state of Utah, an 18-year-old young man - a so-called treasure hunter - fell 600 feet to his death at an old silver mine.

This was the type of senseless tragedy that, perhaps, could have been prevented with some education and enlightenment. I invite each and every one of you to join MSHA in our ongoing nationwide effort to "Stay Out and Stay Alive."

Health Issues

Many of you may have questions about health issues. Some of these concern regulations.

Back in May, regulations for diesel particulate matter went into effect for all underground coal mines. MSHA developed a training program guide to assist coal operators in developing effective, mine-specific training programs. This guide is available on MSHA's web site.

MSHA also reached a partial settlement of the legal challenges to the final rule on diesel particulate matter levels in underground metal and nonmetal mines.

To assist metal and nonmetal underground mine operators in complying with the regulations, MSHA conducted a series of one-day compliance assistance workshops in eight cities around the country. The eighth and final workshop was held yesterday in Elko, Nevada.

These seminars are part of MSHA's concerted effort to use all of the tools available under the Mine Act to enhance miners' health and safety. Providing the mining community with knowledge of a rule at the beginning of the process is critical to your ability to understand and comply with the rule.

The HazCom interim final rule, originally slated to go into effect on October 3, will be delayed until June 30, 2002. We are re-opening the record and holding additional public hearings in order to allow interested persons another opportunity to comment on any issue relevant to the rulemaking. This action also will assure that mine operators have sufficient time to determine what is necessary for compliance and for MSHA to become prepared to assist - which includes enforcement - mine operators.

This might be an appropriate place to say a few words in general about regulations -- on safety or health. It's my intention that we will look at new regulations strictly in those cases where it is necessary and where regulations would make a real difference in advancing miner health and safety. In other words, we will be looking for a return on investment.

We will not implement new regulations for the sake of having regulations, or simply for the sake of saying we did something -- anything -- about a particular matter.

And in the case of new proposed regulations, we will also solicit and take into consideration input we receive from all sectors of the mining community in order to achieve the most viable regulations possible.

One thing we will not do is use policy as a substitute for regulations.

21st Century issues

Safety and health in the workplace is one of Secretary Chao's most important priorities. It is part of the Department of Labor's annual performance plan. And she has made it clear that the safety and health of the workforce is personally important to her.

In June, the Department of Labor held a summit on the 21st Century Workforce in Washington, D.C. The summit drew thousands of participants and focused on three topics: the skills gap within the workforce, the demographic changes facing the workforce, and the future of the workplace.

These topics do not just concern the "high-tech" industries. They also concern us in the mining industry. In our Nation's mines the workforce is aging. As demand picks up, we are finding a skills gap in some areas with a shortage of trained miners. And we, too, need to think about the direction that our industry will develop during this century so that we can be proactive, not just reactive, in protecting miners' safety and health 10, 20, 30 years or more from now.

Listening to our stakeholders

To achieve both our short- and long-term goals, it is most important that we in MSHA get in better touch with all of our stakeholders.

I am telling the managers and headquarters employees in MSHA that in my view, we need to get out into the field more and to reacquaint ourselves with our stakeholders.

We need to talk personally with miners, mine operators and managers, labor representatives, trainers, state mine safety and health officials and any others who can give us assistance or to whom we can provide assistance in the furtherance of our mission.

We need personally to see the mines and the operations for which we are responsible. If we fail to do this, we quickly fall out of touch. And when we are out of touch, it shows -- in what we say, in what we miss, and most importantly in our decisions and actions.

I want all our decisions to be made from a background of current, personal knowledge.

That is why I am making such a concerted effort in these first few months to meet as many people in the mining community as I can.

I also know that we need to call on the creativity of the whole mining community. I want to challenge everyone, including our MSHA employees, to "think outside of the box" and move beyond the norm. I feel strongly that all ideas are important. Every idea deserves thoughtful consideration and sometimes the most outlandish-seeming ideas, with a little adaptation, turn out to be brilliant.

I have told MSHA employees that I expect that every one of our stakeholders be treated fairly, equally, with respect, and with dignity. Likewise, I would hope that our personnel receive the same treatment. That includes respect for differences in perspective. I would expect representatives from labor organizations, management, manufacturers and other sectors to have different perspectives, yet still be able to talk together respectfully and reasonably and work things out.

I would expect representatives from the coal sector to have a different perspective from the metal and nonmetal sector. I will not expect the metal and nonmetal sector to accept being "coalized," as some people put it, or the coal sector to concern itself with issues that only affect metal and nonmetal mining.

And I hope that each of you will work with us on our ongoing outreach programs, so that we have the benefit of your best ideas and thoughts.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been conducting stakeholder meetings in all districts and regions across the United States on our 15-50 initiative, and we have also been conducting a series of stakeholder meetings to gain insight on how to improve miner safety and health training.

Closing

Your best creative thoughts on how we can accomplish our mission even better than before will be paramount in achieving our performance objectives. I hope that you will always feel free to give me your best advice, whatever that may be. If you have concerns or ideas that need to be brought to my attention, let me know.

I hope that all of us in the mining community will be able to feel a sense of excitement about what we can do to enhance our health and safety performance. I would hope also that at the end of each day, each of us will be able to look back knowing we have made a difference in improving safety and health for this Nation's miners and for their families.

With our best efforts and creativity, I know we can achieve outstanding progress in protecting miners' safety and health.

Thank you.

I would be happy to answer any questions.