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Remarks of Dave D. Lauriski, Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Mine Safety and Health before the 22nd Annual
Georgia Mining Association & Georgia Crushed Stone
Association Safety Workshops
Tuesday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 1, 2002 -- Macon, Ga.


Opening

Good morning. I'd like to thank Lee Lemke and Jerry Gossett for the invitation to speak with you this morning.

It's my pleasure to take part in your 22nd Annual Safety Workshop. It's particularly good to be in the company of people who are committed to miner health and safety.

Organizations like the Georgia Mining Association and the Georgia Crushed Stone Association are of vital importance to our mission. Groups like yours play a key role in improving and enhancing the safety of mine workers throughout the nation.

I've been directing MSHA now for just about one year. I came to this position from a career in the mining industryas a safety and health professional and as a manager. It's a great privilege to serve in this post under President George W. Bush.

It's also a pleasure to work with Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who has been extremely supportive of our activities for improving miner safety and health.

Setting the Course

Like all Federal agencies we are working under the umbrella of the President's long-term management agenda for improving the overall management and performance of the Federal government.

In the broadest terms, the President has called for all Federal agencies to become: To those of us who have had management responsibilities in industry, the President's government-wide goals are both recognizable and clearly appropriate: Within that framework, Secretary Chao has established a strategic plan for the Department of Labor. Prominent in the Secretary's plan is Quality Workplaces. That means workplaces that are safe, healthful, and fair.

In this context we have set specific goals in mine safety and health: We have set goals for ourselves, including reduction of accidents and workmen's compensation costs within MSHA. This part of our overall effort is designed so we can lead by example and to improve our financial management.

At the same time, we are working to create a cultural change in MSHA and in the mining industry that, I believe, will be critical to take our safety and health performance to the next level.

MSHA Vision

As you well know, the U.S. mining industry has made outstanding safety and health progress over the decades.

Last year, the toll of mining deaths in this country was the lowest ever recorded.

And here in Georgia, the non-fatal days-lost injury rate for mine workers has been well below the national average over the last several years. That is something of which you can be truly proud.

Despite that, some of us have observed that injuries and fatalities nationwide have plateaued in recent years. No longer are we seeing the consistent progress of earlier decades. And we have experienced some troubling setbacks.

This year, for instance, fatal accidents in mines are up, compared with the same time last year: As of today, 25 mining fatalities have occurred nationwide, compared with 19 on this date a year ago.

MSHA accomplished a great deal in the past, as an agency centered primarily on enforcement. At the same time, I believe we will stay "flat-lined" as long as enforcement remains the centerpiece around which all other activities revolve.

To get to the next level, we need to enlist the partnership of everyone in the mining industryorganizations like yours, in particular. And that means a change in our culture.

Let me be clear. What we need to provide the mining industry is not less enforcement, but a healthy balance between enforcement, education and training, technical support, and compliance assistance.

I have discussed this philosophy with people from all sectors of the mining community who are concerned with safety and health, and I have discussed it extensively with people in MSHA, from individual enforcement personnel to top management, and there is general consensus on that principle.

When I was in industry, we used to talk about the "business triangle of success." The three sides of the triangle were production, cost, andat the base of the triangle'safety and health.

Now in MSHA we also talk about three elements: enforcement, education and training, and technical support: each of which includes the key elementcompliance assistance.

Together, they form our "MSHA triangle of success."

At the same time, we are working in accordance with the President's management agenda to: Most importantly, as I have told MSHA employees around the countrywe need to be "one MSHA"not a collection of separate organizations or programs working at cross-purposes, as has happened sometimes in the past. The mining industry should have just one MSHA to deal with, one organization and one message.

Stakeholder Meetings

In line with the President's goal to make the government more citizen-centered, last year we held dozens of stakeholder meetings.

These included general meetings in all of our 17 districts across the country and special meetings to focus on education and training issues and on information technology. We did this because we really wanted to hear from the people we serve in all sectors of the mining community. Some of you participated and I want to thank you for getting involved.

It would have been a mistake to assume we knew what the mining community had to say. We needed to listen before we could act. And we had a tremendous response from all sectors'management, miners, industry and labor groups, and safety professionals.

I also held similar meetings with MSHA employees throughout the country.

We explained to each group of stakeholders the situation we were facing the need to get to the next level in mine safety and health and asked for their advice.

Next, we reviewed and analyzed what was said at all these meetings. As you can imagine, the ideas we heard were wide-ranging and various. At the same time, we heard common and significant themes.

1. First of all, we heard about enforcement. We all recognize that enforcement is necessary and is part of the law. At the same time, our stakeholders told us that to get to the next level in safety and health, we need to direct our enforcement resources where they are needed most. Again, that is not less enforcement, but focused enforcement. We also heard of inconsistences that have caused problems for some.

2. The desire for more compliance assistance was probably the single most frequently heard comment. That includes assistance in understanding what the rules require, assistance in training miners, and assistance with safety and health technology. This does not mean less enforcement it is an adjunct to enforcement.

3. There was a critical need expressed for improved education and training. That includes new and updated training materials that speak to the needs of today's miners, including materials in Spanish.

4. We heard our stakeholders say they wanted better access to information, especially online. They want to be able to better identify trends at their own operations and in the industry, they want to compare their record with others', and they want us to do more in using data to better identify problems and solutions.

5. We heard a great deal about the special needs of small mines. Small operators, as you know, without the resources of larger operations, are most in need of help when it comes to establishing a sound safety and health process, training their miners, and identifying new technology that may help them achieve safe production.

6. Finally, we heard that when it comes to regulatory activity, we need to listen closely to our stakeholders. Not all fixes for problems need to be regulatory, and when we do enter into rulemaking, we need to encourage the widest participation.

Initiatives and Prerogatives

As a result of these insights, we have developed a series of action items that we call "Initiatives and Prerogatives." In the past couple of months or so, we have shared these with our stakeholders. These initiatives and prerogatives address the President's management objectives, the Secretary's goals, our own management goals.

A complete description would take more time than you have this morning -- but I would like to share the highlights with you and mention some specific examples.

Enforcement. We are evaluating several aspects of MSHA's enforcement process to determine how we can achieve more effective, focused, and consistent enforcement.

Compliance assistance. We are developing innovative methods of compliance assistance, and we are making compliance assistance an integral part of every mine visit and every activity.

We have started providing new types of training to our health, safety and compliance specialists, designed to enhance their professionalism and their ability to do more than just write violations. We are teaching them how to analyze a mine's record before they make a visit, how to identify root causes of problems, understanding the human factor, and how to communicate most effectively with both management and miners. We are working to make all of our employees well-rounded health and safety professionals.

Earlier this year we responded to the upturn in fatal accidents with a special effort titled, "Focus on Safe Work." Our full range of specialists, trainers, and technical support personnel went to more than 10,000 operations and talked directly with more than 150,000 miners about recent accidents. We also mailed out informational packets and put specific accident solutions on our web site.

We're continuing to hold stakeholder meetings to gather information on ideas for best practices. For instance, we are revising our guide on equipment guarding. Guarding is among the standards that most frequently cause confusion.

Education and training. We are developing new training materials, revising those that are outdated, and undertaking a complete review of our materials and publications to make sure we meet current needs.

For instance, we are systematically updating all our training films, transferring them to DVD, and developing new programs directly on DVD. We have just released the first of these, on haul roads and dump site berms.

Some of our training materials already have been translated into Spanish, and we are soon going to have MSHA's web site available in Spanish. The process has been started to translate all of our training materials.

We worked with one mine operator to develop a comprehensive training program in health and safety for all of the company's supervisors. This included classroom and hands-on training at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, and follow-up in the mines. This approach has potential to benefit other operations, and we are now starting to work with a second company in a similar way.

Small mines. In all of our activities we are giving special attention to the needs of small mines.

We are developing a "small mine starter kit" to provide everything a small mine operator needs to know about MSHA. This is intended to meet the need of small operators who can feel overwhelmed in trying to sort out what they need from all the available information.

And we are going to open a small mine safety office that would be devoted to assisting the operators.

Use of data. We are working to make data more easily available to individual companies on their own operations.

In response to requests, we have placed data prominently on our web site concerning the most frequently cited violations in each sector of the mining industry. We're now developing tips to go with them on how to prevent these violations.

We're also looking at ways to better identify mines with outstanding safety and health processes that can serve as models for the industry.

Regulatory Issues

Regulatory issues were another major topic at stakeholder meetings and, I am sure, are of concern to you as well.

Last year, we shortened our list of rulemaking projects on our semi-annual regulatory agenda. We did this because many items had been on the list for years, without progress. We are including fewer regulatory items, and we intend to give them our concentrated attention.

If we take action on a rulemaking, it will represent a real need. There has to be a real problem, and rulemaking has to be the most appropriate solution. Full-scale rulemaking is a lengthy, complex process that demands significant resources. We will certainly pursue rulemaking when justified, but it will not be our automatic first resort.

At the same time, when we do undertake rulemaking, we will always ask for and thoughtfully consider input from our stakeholders in order to develop the most effective and workable rules for protecting miners' safety and health.

So far as possible we also should work towards general agreement, towards rulemaking that all parties can accept as necessary and practical.

Finally, every rulemaking project needs to have compliance assistance as an integral part of the process.

We are engaged in an extensive, long-term effort to review existing regulations and policies in line with the President's goals. Our aim is to identify provisions that are outdated, redundant, unnecessary or otherwise require change.

Engaging Commitment

As I said earlier, organizations like yours will play a key role in enhancing miner health and safety. At this time I would like to engage your organization as a long-term partner in the effort to get to the next level in mine safety and health.

I want to thank those of you who exemplify health and safety excellence. You are showing the way to others. Those mines that do well in safety always have one thing in common: they make safety a value. This is a priceless quality.

It is one thing to have information about how to keep safe and healthy. And we are working very hard to make that information available throughout the mining industry. But information is not enough. There has to be a habit of doing the safe thing, a habit so ingrained that safety has become a value.

Those of us who have had young children can identify with this attitude. When you have a small child or grandchild you don't think twice about the safety seat, the child-proof bottle cap, or the stairway gate. You just use it, no question.

That's the attitude we need to see expressed every day, at every mine site, on every shift, by every person.

That is the human element we need, and it goes far beyond just information about how to do it right.

It is also a human factor that needs to come from the top from those of you who are leaders of your companies. If you are giving this leadership, from the top down, setting specific safety and health goals and monitoring performance, making it clear that safety and health are part of the triangle of success, then you know that it gets results.

You also know that safety and health have a side-effect a smooth, accident free work process enhances efficiency, productivity, and ultimately profits.

If safety as a value represents a change for the organization, then you know that it also causes resistance. Resistance to change is normal, human and universal but at the same time, persistence gets results.

As I mentioned, we have some concerns that injuries and fatalities in recent years have reached a plateau and, in fact, creeping upwards. But I am by no means discouraged. The elements to get to the next level in safety and health are right in this room. I thank you for your efforts in the past. And, I frankly ask you to continue and even do more.

I want to enlist your help in demonstrating safety and health as a value throughout each of your companies and in the industry as a whole. I hope you will tell others about your successes and share your methods. And I hope you will tell us at MSHA as well. We want to learn from you. I want to ask that all of you become examples and a touchstones for others in showing what it takes, and what is gained, by making safety a value every hour of every day.

With success we can look forward to lives saved, injuries prevented, a healthier workforce and healthier mining industry. Success in bringing about this change will require everyone's commitment and most importantly, our performance.

I look forward to working with you. Thank you for your time.