Skip to content


Remarks
Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Salt Institute's 2002 Annual Meeting
Key Biscayne, Florida
March 9, 2002


Good morning. And thank you for that warm welcome, which is rivalled only by the absolutely balmy conditions outside. After having braved some unusually bitter weather in Virginia and West Virginia over the last several days, it's truly a pleasure to be here.

Thank you, Dick, for your kind invitation. I always welcome the opportunity to take part in industry meetings and the presentations of safety awards.

Before accepting President Bush's call to head up the Mine Safety and Health Administration last May, I spent more than 30 years in the mining industry, most of that time focusing on health and safety.

So I understand all too well the importance of recognizing achievements that demonstrate the emphasis a mine operation places on safe work practices.

Last year was the safest year in the history of mining in this country. That's a milestone we've all worked hard to achieve.

Overall, there were 72 fatalities in U.S. mines, 13 fewer than in 2001.

Certainly, no death is acceptable. And I don't think any of us will rest until we've reached zero fatalities. An impossible task? Perhaps 100, 50, or even 30 years ago it would have seemed so, but, in these times, it's a goal that is attainable.

Just look at your accomplishments.

For those of you who've gotten to know me over the recent months, you understand how much I believe in establishing and carrying out specific goals.

Within your own industry, you have much to be proud of.

Not since 1998 has there been a fatality at a salt mine in the United States.

And considering that salt production is showing no signs of slowing down U.S. annual production is up to nearly 50 million tons that is truly remarkable.

In the U.S. alone, there are 15 operating salt mines and nearly 50 salt production plants with major sites in Louisiana, Ohio, New York, Kansas, Michigan, Utah and California.

And nearly 100 other nations have salt-producing facilities ranging from primitive solar evaporation to advanced, multi-stage evaporation in salt refineries.

Last year, salt mine workers logged 4,357,115 hours worked without a fatal injury.

Many of these operations will be recognized this evening. I'd like to mention the Cote Blanche Mine in Franklin, Louisiana, an IMC Salt operation, which won the Sentinels of Safety award for racking up 284,932 employee hours in 2000 without a lost-time injury. Well done!

These operations have made safety a value, and it has indeed paid off.

As you're undoubtedly aware, the mining industry at large has experienced some serious setbacks in the first two months of this year.

In January and February alone, 17 miners have died on the job.

It's shocking, it's disheartening, and it's all the more reason for us to strengthen our resolve and work even harder to prevent accidents and injuries in the mines.

"Focus on Safe Work"

One of the ways we're attempting to attack the problem is through a new initiative called "Focus on Safe Work."

We began this effort in early February, and I must say, our health and safety specialists have covered an amazing amount of ground in that short time period.

Since the beginning of February, hundreds of MSHA health, safety and compliance personnel, engineers, and training specialists have visited more than 8,300 mine sites and spoken with nearly 90,000 miners.

They talk to miners and mine operators about the serious accidents that have occurred over the last two months, look for common trends, and discuss ways best practices, if you will to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future.

In particular, our specialists are focusing on three primary causes of mine accidents roof falls, electrocutions and powered haulage. Our personnel have even customized talks with miners to reflect on hazards typically encountered at their own mine sites.

We've also made materials on safe mining available on our Internet web site at www.msha.gov.

I firmly believe in this program, and that these discussions between MSHA specialists and miners will not go unheeded.

Last year, we launched a similar effort, called "Stand Down for Safety," and during that time mine fatalities did experience a drop.

Without a strong safety ethic, little else matters.

Production numbers may rise, the commodity may be selling at a healthy rate and price, but if mine operators don't place safety as an equal partner in the business plan, and if miners fail to make safety a value and accept the responsibility to keep themselves safe, the other components will crumble.

"Safety is a value"

That's why I keep emphasizing making "safety a value" within every organization.

Safety represents more than just the length of time that has elapsed since the last accident.

When safety becomes an automatic part of life -- for instance, when you put on your seatbelt without giving it a second thought -- it becomes a very personal value.

Safety is a value that I've embraced in both my personal and professional lives, and I hope everyone in this room does the same.

Agency Goals

I'd like to talk to you now about my vision for MSHA over the coming years, my goals for the Agency and how those goals can best serve the mining industry at large. And how those goals and this vision fit President Bush's management agenda.

> One of my primary goals is for MSHA to evolve into an agency that brings a healthy balance among education and training, compliance assistance, enforcement and technical support, those activities which the Mine Act mandates.

I'm not talking about less enforcement.

What I am talking about is working hard to get at the root causes of problems to prevent future accidents.

I'm talking about providing assistance to miners and mine operators.

I'm talking about making sure that education and training is utilized and that it provides a return on investment.

Over the next four years, I envision a reduction in the number of mining fatalities by 15 percent per year and a reduction in our non-fatal days-lost injury rate by 50 percent over this same four-year period.

I vowed that I would visit every MSHA district in the country, meet with the employees, and talk to them directly about my vision for MSHA and for the mining industry.

I was struck by the caliber of people and by the wealth of talent and expertise we have in this Agency.

And I want you all to know that I intend to capitalize on that expertise, so that when you, our stakeholders, seek our assistance, it will be a rewarding and satisfying experience on both sides.

Stakeholder Meetings

And speaking of our stakeholders, when I wasn't visiting MSHA field offices, I spent a lot of time attending meetings around the country with representatives of the mining industry operators, labor organizations, miners, and groups like yours.

My staff and I listened closely to and received many valuable ideas and suggestions about a myriad of topics that would help us in our efforts. Here are some of the things we heard, and this is by no means a complete listing:

Every mine visit should incorporate hazard identification, compliance assistance and on-the-spot training.

Help from training specialists and technical support personnel should be easily and readily available.

We should provide close consultation with stakeholders to develop regulations, training, and compliance assistance materials.

Special attention should be given to the problems associated with small mines.

We should avoid needless duplication to make the best use of our resources.

I am excited about the exchanges that went on between MSHA and industry representatives, and I am exhilarated about the opportunities that are at hand.

Notice I said opportunities, not challenges.

I truly do envision this direction we're taking as a golden opportunity to travel new ground, to always seek new and better ways to keep miners healthy and safe on the job, so that, when their shift is over, they can return home to their loved ones in a safe and healthy state.

International Activities

Since your organization's reach goes beyond U.S. borders, I thought I would share with you some of the activities MSHA has undertaken on behalf of our international counterparts in mining.

For the third time, MSHA will be holding an international mine rescue contest in conjunction with our national metal and nonmetal mining competition. The dates are August 19-23 in Reno, Nevada.

Unlike the last two events, this year we have a planning co-chair Poland, whose delegation will work closely with us to plan many aspects of the contest.

So far, the countries that will take part in the competition are Peru, Mexico, Bolivia, Canada, China and Ukraine. South Africa and Romania plan to send delegations to observe.

We have received a lot of positive feedback from international teams that participated in the first two contests.

They have told us how beneficial it was for them to share techniques and information with their mining colleagues around the world.

Some of these teams are from mines that are government-owned, and so our visitors often express amazement at how much authority MSHA has. They seem equally amazed at the good, strong working relationships we've established with industry, labor and the state agencies.

Periodically, MSHA will host visits by foreign delegations at our Approval and Certification Center in Triadelphia, West Virginia and at the Safety and Health Technology Center in Pittsburgh.

These two centers provide engineering and scientific expertise to assist MSHA, the states and the mining industry on a variety of health and safety issues, including the equipment approval process, dust control, mine and equipment fires, and reviewing new technology.

We try to customize their visits to fit their specific needs.

Our Mine Academy in Beckley, West Virginia also has been host to a number of delegations, from Bolivia, China, India and Peru.

We are working closely with the Ukrainian government through a Bilateral Technical Program.

Through this program, MSHA is providing the Ukraine with technical expertise, in an effort to reduce the number and severity of methane and coal explosions in their underground mines. MSHA will be sending another delegation to the Ukraine next month to continue working on this program.

Also in April, I will be making a presentation on our mine inspection system and mine emergency response at the Sixth Mining Safety International Seminar in Lima, Peru.

MSHA responds to numerous inquiries for technical assistance, and training from industry, students and government officials around the world, and we are gratified for the opportunity to help these nations improve their health and safety records.

Closing

In closing, I would like to commend you for the work you do to create a product that touches the lives of virtually every human being, and, in the process, achieving an exceptional safety record for which your industry has worked so hard.

You can certainly serve as a positive example to other sectors of the mining community. The commodities that are mined may be different, and the conditions in which the workers labor may vary, but we all share one common goal

Keeping our workers safe and healthy, preventing painful injuries and illnesses, and averting losses that affect miners, their families and companies.

If there's anything we at MSHA can assist you with, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thank you for your time and attention this morning.