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Remarks
Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Before the West Virginia Coal Association
29th Annual Mining Symposium
Charleston, WV
January 10, 2002

Introduction

Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here with you today.

I'd like to thank Bill Rainey and Chris Hamilton for the opportunity to update you on mine safety and health trends and prospects for the coming year. And I'm very pleased to share the platform with Governor Wise. I know we share the same goals for miner health and safety.

We have a great partnership between MSHA and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training under Doug Conaway's leadership. In the coming year I look forward to strengthening our cooperative efforts.

I know that all of you care about the safety and health of miners as much as I do. It's a testimony to your commitment that your workshops yesterday included a health and safety seminar, and I'm delighted that both of our district managers here in West Virginia were able to participate.

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' mines and miners is a passion with me. For more than 30 years, mining and mine safety and health have been a part of me.

It's been an honor to serve for the past eight months under President Bush. This job is unlike any I've ever held, but in both the mining industry and in government, there is a constant -- the safety and health of our miners and the performance goal being 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.

It's been a pleasure and a privilege to be on the team with Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. She's been tremendously supportive of miners' safety and health. Last summer Secretary Chao took part in the 25th anniversary celebration for our National Mine Health and Safety Academy here in Beckley.

In September she visited Brookwood, Alabama, to share her condolences after the tragic explosion there. More recently, back in Washington she took part in presenting the Sentinels of Safety Awards to some of the nation's safest mining operations.

Stakeholder Meetings

We in the Mine Safety and Health Administration recognize that excellence in safety and health demands close cooperation from everyone - mining companies throughout the country, mine workers, trade associations, labor organizations, state agencies and educational institutions -- all individuals and groups that have a vested interest in mine safety and health.

Accordingly, at the beginning of my tenure I pledged that MSHA would be in closer touch with its stakeholders.

I've done a lot of traveling to keep that pledge. I've been to mining operations across the country. I've stopped in at MSHA's offices in almost every district. I've met with labor representatives, mine operators, miners and many others to ask for ideas and offer assistance.

Accordingly, MSHA held dozens of meetings last year to reach out stakeholders to obtain input on how to improve safety and health for our nation's mines and miners. Twenty-four such meetings were held across the country by the Coal Mine Safety and Health districts.

MSHA also held several stakeholder meetings to get input on miner training. Participants represented miners, mine operators, educators, labor unions, trade associations, equipment manufacturers, States and others.

And we also held six meetings with representatives of the mining community to hear their concerns and obtain ideas for using information technology to improve safety and health for miners. We held informational meetings with industry and labor on a new "common platform," to make a wide variety of mine safety and health data more easily accessible to MSHA and the mining community.

I hope that many of you took part in one of more of these meetings. Over the holiday period we have been compiling and studying the input we received.

MSHA is currently working to develop an action plan that will implement the many comments and suggestions received during the stakeholder meetings. We plan to share the results with you and others in the mining industry in the very near future.

However, at this point I think I can give you a quick preview of some points that emerged.

First of all, our stakeholder meetings showed that improvements are possible and change required in the way MSHA goes about its business.

From industry and labor, from trainers and manufacturers and others, we heard the same thing, and I agree: MSHA needs to view itself as more than an enforcement agency.

MSHA needs to be about compliance assistance, partnerships, education, training, and technical support as well as enforcement.

We need to look at what works, not just what isn't working.

We need to encourage good health and safety performance.

We need to become pro-active, not just re-active.

Let me be clear - that does not mean less enforcement. We will change the way we function, but that change will be done within the confines of the Mine Act.

I took an oath of office to uphold the law. And I will do that. At the same time, I believe there is much more to our mission.

Another thing we heard about consistently was training.

In fact, training was probably the single issue that we heard most about from all segments of the mining industry. It's clear that everyone agrees: effective training is an essential tool in our efforts to reduce accidents, injuries, and illnesses. At the same time, we face the challenge of recruiting and training a new generation of miners.

If we are going to reduce mining accidents, we will have to insure that our miners and supervisors are able to identify and control hazards in the workplace. We will have to better prepare them to perform their work tasks safely.

We're reviewing what people in the mining community have told us about new miner training as well as experienced miner training, language barriers that sometimes exist, 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.

And it is also imperative that MSHA's own health and safety specialists receive enhanced 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.

A great many voiced a need for compliance assistance along with training. The majority of participants advocated a shift from what they saw as an adversarial relationship. Many stakeholders said they would like MSHA to provide more advice and education on prevention measures and hazard recognition.

Yet another common theme was improving the inspection process. While somewhat different in their ideas, both industry and labor representatives suggested that we look at ways to make the most effective use of our health and safety specialists' time 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.

What I am talking about is an Agency that brings a healthy balance among those activities the Mine Act mandates: enforcement, education and training - which includes compliance assistance - and technical support. We must always make safety and health our prime value by which we judge any action we decide to take.

Shortly we will be rolling out the many specific steps 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 Goals and the Fatality Record

Not long after my appointment, I also suggested that one key to further progress was to set goals.

I am a firm believer that to achieve excellence there must be an identified, measurable target to work toward. With that in mind, we have set some very specific targets.

Two of our goals over the next four years for the mining industry are 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.

I talked with a great many people in the mining community about these goals, and all have agreed that these are worthwhile and do-able objectives.

We have goals on the health side as well. They include:

-- Reducing the percentage of respirable dust samples in coal and non-coal mines that exceed the applicable standards, by 5 percent each year; and

-To reduce the percentage of noise exposures above the action level that would trigger a citation by a like amount.

Preliminary data indicate that the first goal I mentioned was met in the year 2001 by the mining industry nationwide.

Fatal injuries at all mines in the United States declined to a new low of 72. That was 13 fewer than in calendar 2000, and the lowest figure since records have been kept, starting in the early 20th century.

I won't call that a cause for celebration. Even one death is unacceptable. But I will say it is an accomplishment that we should all take pride in. This achievement shows what can be done when we are committed and when we work together.

Of course, as you probably are aware, fatalities in the coal industry increased last year, from 38 in 2000 to 42 in 2001 . Thirteen of those deaths came in the tragic accident in Brookwood, Alabama, at the Jim Walter No. 5 Mine.

It was a heartbreaking situation, most of all because 12 of those who died were responding to help victims of the first explosion, when a second explosion struck. This tragic mine accident should forcibly remind us of the need for constant vigilance.

MSHA is now conducting a thorough 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. As soon as we have the answers on how it occurred we will share the full details with all of you. I know you will look carefully at our findings in order to help prevent similar occurrences.

It's also true that 13 of last year's coal mining fatalities occurred here in West Virginia. As you have shown previously, the West Virginia coal industry can do better, and I know you are as eager as I am to see that happen. If we work together, I know we can see new safety records set here in West Virginia as well.

Let me just mention that the nation's metal and nonmetal mining sector set a historic low record with 30 fatalities during 2001, down from 47 in 2000. The previous metal and nonmetal low fatality record was 40, and they achieved that 7 years back, in 1994. In other words -- in one year the metal and nonmetal mining industry cut fatalities by 36 percent and beat its previous low record by 25 percent.

I do not say this to make negative comparisons. The reason I mention this achievement is to say: it can be done.

In the coming year, we'll be working with you and with the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training to figure out what we can do together to improve on last year's record.

We face special challenges but also many opportunities to improve mine safety and health.

In response to increased coal demand, West Virginia has new mines opening, and existing mines adding new mining units. Experienced miners are returning to mining jobs. New, inexperienced miners are entering the industry.

We are also seeing extensive use of contractors to perform a wide variety of mining tasks -- this is of particular importance in all segments of mining. Last year four contractor employees were involved in fatal accidents here in West Virginia. At the same time, mining operations are moving into areas with more challenging conditions.

All this makes the way we address safety and health in West Virginia this year absolutely critical. Make no mistake -- there must be no compromise on safety. We must work together to meet these challenges and to seize the many opportunities. With your commitment, it will happen.

What We Can Do

What can we do right now?

To meet the challenges ahead, education and training will be critical.

First and foremost, we need to work on making "safety a value" for every person working in every mine on every shift.

Even before the accident in Brookwood, there were a few signs last year suggesting reasons for concern - clusters of accidents, causing not only non-fatal injuries, but clusters of fatal injuries.

At that time, I suggested that mine operators ask their employees to take a brief time-out, or "stand down for safety," and talk about recent accidents and trends, and to re-evaluate safety practices and procedures.

Reaching every miner on every shift in our nation's mines has been a tall order. We mailed out packets of safety information to be used at the mines, and we've posted information on MSHA's web site.

We asked 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 asked for mine operators to review safety procedures in place and to make sure that those procedures are updated and well-understood by all miners. I hope you took part in this effort.

And now, I hope that you will share with your employees the information about accidents last year in West Virginia and nationwide. On our web site, you'll find statistics back to the turn of the century that show how far we've come. You'll also find information regarding last year's statistics broken down by type of mine, type of accident, and state, as well as details of each occurrence.

Please share these facts with your employees and use the information as a basis for tailgate safety talks, reaching every miner, as we head into 2002. Experience shows that nothing gets attention like real information about accidents that have happened and how they could be prevented.

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.

In addition, we must never forget that we need to reduce the thousands of nonfatal injuries that occur each year. We need to pay attention to near-misses that warn of potential injuries.

To address all these aspects of safety, we need to put safety and health tools into the hands of miners - and supervisors on the job every day.

I'm pleased to hear from Pat Brady and Tim Thompson that they plan to help meet the challenges.

I agree with Pat that to make safety progress we all need to look beyond treating the symptoms and identify root causes of accidents and near misses.

I was pleased to hear from Tim Thompson that some mine operators in West Virginia have asked for - and received - non-enforcement visits from district personnel to talk face-to-face with newly employed miners about their safety and health. These are steps in the right direction.

Another very promising step is a strategic partnership we have developed together with Doug Conaway and Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, and with Massey Energy.

Representatives of MSHA, the state and Massey last year jointly created a new training program for supervisors. More than 100 Massey supervisors, section foremen and mine managers have taken part in the new training program at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy. Supervisors from West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia are participating. We expect that the total participation will be more than 800.

This is a truly innovative partnership in that the partners met for several months to develop a safety curriculum, create instructional materials and activities, and identify personnel to serve as instructors. The curriculum includes topics such as general mining methods, MSHA and West Virginia mine safety regulations, hazard and task training, pre-shift and on-shift responsibilities, and Massey Energy's own structured safety program.

One unique feature of the program is that the supervisors get hands-on training in the academy's mine simulation lab. Participants will perform examinations inside the academy's simulated underground mine. These include longwall, retreat and development mining situations, as well as evaluation of bleeders.

I believe that this is a very promising partnership, because a thorough safety and health understanding on the part of supervisors can have tremendous long-term benefits in the safety and health of every aspect in an operation. Moreover, we hope to expand this type of program to other companies and other states.

Meanwhile, we have also strengthened our partnership with the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training by stepping up our data sharing. Ar Doug Conway's request, we provided his office, free of charge, with more than 60 laptop computers that MSHA had surplused.

We also made arrangements so that West Virginia State personnel now directly track MSHA's data for mines in the State through a special Internet portal. This can help them identify what is working and what needs need extra attention. Knowledge is power.

And in this, again, we are pioneering a model in West Virginia that we hope will lead to for data-sharing partnerships with others.

Six of the coal mine fatalities in West Virginia last year were due to falls of the roof or rib. This is another area where were we are working cooperatively with Doug and his staff.

As roof control plans come up for regular review, we are encouraging mine operators to strengthen their plans and make them easily understandable to everyone, including individual miners so that they can more easily serve as working plans for everyone at the mine. Our technical support staff are also helping to evaluate how we can improve a mine's roof control plan.

To sum up, there are many promising efforts under way right now in West Virginia to improve accident prevention in the mines. The Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training are great partners to work with, and I hope many of you will join us in these cooperative efforts. Together, we can - and will - make a difference.

Health and Regulations

In working to prevent accidents that cause injury, we must also remember to pay attention to protecting miners' health. As I mentioned, we have specific health goals, and we expect to be working with you on several key health issues in the next year. Some of these concern regulations, while others concern education and training and technical support.

As I have said since the beginning of my tenure, any regulation we adopt 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 to provide that opportunity, we delayed the interim final rule. This delay also helped assure that mines would have sufficient time to determine how best to achieve compliance, and for our own health and safety specialists to be well-versed in the rule, its requirements and its purpose.

Recently, 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 those areas we believe most deserving of our attention. Instead of spreading our time and attention over a large number of rulemaking projects, many of which have been on the agenda for several years, 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 plan to move ahead with rulemaking projects on safety issues such as high-voltage longwall equipment, 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.

Last month I traveled to the National Mine Health and Safety Academy to attend the graduation of a new class of Federal mine safety, health and compliance specialists.

Like me, most of these new employees began their MSHA career with 20 to 25 years of mining experience already under their belts.

As I congratulated them on completing a rigorous 23 weeks of learning, I also spoke to them about you and our other stakeholders. Each of our employees, I said, plays a key role in establishing and maintaining relationships with mine operators, miners and others who have a stake in miners' safety and health.

I told them that, as our representatives, they will be expected to uphold the law each and every day. At the same time, I told them, that our mission has to be a balanced effort. I urged them to promote and commit to making "safety a value." And, I told them to live that message.

I would like to urge you to do the same. Safety is more than just the length of time that has elapsed since your last accident. It is more than a number and it certainly is more than just a word. It is a "value" - a very personal value, and one that I know all of you share.

Carry that message with you each time you drive onto to a mine site, each time you deal with a contractor, manufacturer or supplier, supervisor, miner or labor representative.

Stress the importance of good safety practices and changing old ways when the old ways are not promoting safety. Talk about possible hazards, and take time to discuss ways to prevent accidents before they happen.

All of us need to promote safe work practices and safe production each and every day.

Only by making safety a value can we hope to make further progress in miner safety and health.

We have some of the safest mines in the world....we need to keep them that way, and we need to do even better.

If we persevere and pursue the goals I have put forward, over the next four years the number of fatalities would be reduced by 45 and the industry would have an average lost-day injury rate of 1.72, a rate that would be second to none. These are worthy goals, and no setback should sway our determination.

As members of this organization, you are a critical component of the industry's future health and safety success. We in MSHA appreciate your support. I hope you will continue to be active and continue to seek ways to improve the mining industry as a whole.

Just one more point: Thinking back to the wake of 9/11, that historic watershed, one thing I will always remember is how so many mining companies, as well as MSHA, stepped forward in that emergency to offer any help they could give.

Again, in the wake of more than one mine accident, I will always remember how, again, this industry's rescue teams have responded with selfless heroism and determination.

I would like to challenge you to bring that same determination, that same energy, that same passion to the daily task of preventing accidents -- and illnesses -- before they happen.

Working together, we can surely achieve the most ambitious of safety and health goals. We can save lives, prevent painful injuries and illnesses, and prevent losses that affect miners, their families and your companies.

That should be our focus and our goal. We can do it, and I believe that with your help, we will.

Again thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. We at MSHA wish each of you and yours a happy, healthy and safe new year. God bless you and God bless America.