Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
33rd Annual Institute on Mining Health, Safety and Research
August 12, 2002
It's a great pleasure to be here. The Annual Institute on Mining Health, Safety and Research has become a grand tradition. It's always a pleasure to meet on this occasion, renew our good working relationships, and exchange the latest information for improving health and safety in the Nation's mines.
I want to start by taking a few minutes speak about the Quecreek rescue. Ray McKinney and John Urosek, who both were on the scene, are going to address the technical side of the rescue this afternoon, but I would also like to give my perspective.
On July 28, as you know, we rescued nine miners from the Quecreek Mine in Western Pennsylvania. I was onsite along with Ray and John and approximately 50 others from MSHA who played critical roles in the rescue. This was a monumental event, a monumental experience, and -- perhaps some others are here today who took part in the rescue, from MSHA or other organizations?
As all of us worked through the days and nights to get to the miners, we knew the eyes of the nation were on Quecreek, because at one point someone counted 38 satellite dishes. But we were surprised afterwards to learn that it was not only a national event -- it was a world event, watched around the clock on satellite TV, as far away as China.
If you saw the news media coverage, you probably noticed that during the emergency the media emphasized a few individuals. Since I was there, I can tell you that this was largely a result of who was free to speak to the cameras at a given time, and gave an artificial idea of what it was actually like.
The fact is, the Quecreek rescue was a huge team effort. Critical roles were played by MSHA; several Pennsylvania agencies; local mining companies; private firms with technology to offer; individual miners; the U.S. Navy; medical, fire and public safety personnel; humanitarian organizations; clergy even now, I probably don't know them all, and each one has a story to tell.
Among all the others, MSHA was able to make some key contributions. For instance:
MSHA provided the mobile command center where Federal, State and company personnel jointly controlled the overall process. This vehicle is specially equipped for communications in a mine emergency and provided a command center where key officials could meet, review information, discuss, reach decisions and communicate with their own people and with the outside world. Originally we had the command center positioned near the mine portal. We later moved the command center to the drill site for closer control.
MSHA provided a seismic monitoring system to check for signs of life. This system has been successfully used in other emergencies including he Mexico City earthquake. In this case, the system did not detect any signs of life due to surface noise from drilling and other activities. However, we never gave up hope, because throughout the whole process, we never had any information that would indicate the miners were not alive. The very first borehole drilled into the area where the miners were trapped was a 6-inch borehole intended for communications. As soon as it was down, we heard nine thumps on the drill, and concluded that we had nine miners alive. Thursday morning was our last communication with the miners until the early hours of Sunday, but everyone kept going day and night at full intensity on the assumption that they were alive and waiting for us.
MSHA staff came up with the idea to keep pumping compressed air into the pocket where the miners were trapped. The first 6-inch borehole, originally drilled for communication, turned out to be life-saving. The miners were trapped in a confined area higher in elevation than the main part of the mine. All exit routes were filled with water to the roof, water had flooded the mine portal. We had pumps going to lower the water, and kept adding more pumps, but at this point the water was still rising toward the miners. John Urosek saw what had to be done. At his urging, an air compressor was used to pump air at high pressure down the 6-inch borehole. This served three purposes: 1) It provided oxygen to the miners, who were trapped in a confined area where they could have suffocated. 2) It provided warmth in the cold, damp environment where hypothermia was a grave concern. 3) And, the compressed air exerted pressure against the rising water. Essentially, the miners were in a protected space, or as some have put it, a bubble.
MSHA determined how much water had to be pumped out before it would be safe to penetrate the mine workings with the large drill being used to develop the rescue shaft. We had to think ahead about what would happen when the rescue shaft entered the "bubble." If air pressure was all that was holding back the water, then as soon as the rescue shaft went through, air would rush out of the rescue shaft, and the water would rise and fill that protected space. We could lose the miners right there. MSHA's Dr. Kelvin Wu calculated how much water had to be pumped out before we could be sure it was safe to put through that rescue shaft. If you watched the news, you probably remember drill problems occurring with the rescue shaft, so that we decided to work on two parallel rescue shafts. These drill problems were fortuitous, because in fact it would not have been safe to put through the rescue shaft a moment sooner than we did. At the end, we actually held back the drill on the lead rescue shaft for a short time, until the pumps brought the water to the safe level. We made sure the pressure was no longer elevated in the space where the miners were. Then we pushed the rescue shaft through. We lowered a microphone, which by the way a private business owner had offered to the rescue effort just one of the many generous donations of equipment, time and energy from the whole community that contributed in so many critical ways. When he handed the earphones to Ray McKinney, and Ray verified that the miners were alive it was an indescribable moment, just indescribable.
MSHA supplied the yellow rescue capsule that was used to bring the miners to the surface. The story of that capsule is interesting. Thirty years ago, a similar capsule was used to rescue two miners in the wake of the Sunshine silver mine fire in Kellogg, Idaho it was used to bring those two survivors from one level of the mine to another. Not long after the Sunshine Mine rescue, the present capsule was constructed, and it has been maintained for 30 years as part of MSHA's mine emergency equipment. And for 30 years it was never used. It was periodically tested, and maintained, and you know, I keep thinking that at some time in the past 30 years, someone could easily have said, "Why are we bothering to maintain this?" Well, MSHA did maintain it, and when it was needed, the rescue capsule functioned perfectly. It was just one of many things that thankfully came together, and may it always serve as a reminder that preparation pays.
I would like to emphasize that while we in MSHA made key contributions, all the major decisions concerning the rescue were jointly agreed upon by MSHA, the Pennsylvania Department of Deep Mine Safety, and the mine operator.
At the same time, there were at least 200 people on site, and many more behind the lines working day and night in critical roles. And all of them came through. The teamwork was indescribable.
At the end, when we made contact with the trapped miners through that microphone and heard a voice tell us they all were alive, it was truly the greatest moment of my life. I believe many others would say the same.
We're now going all-out to prevent an incident like the one at Quecreek from happening again. We've already started our investigation of the incident. The lead investigator is Pat Brady, our District 4 Manager in Mt. Hope, W.Va., whom many of you may know.
At the same time, we're starting a national project to identify old mines.
We are going to: Establish a task force to review the availability, accuracy and quality of old mine maps;
Hold a technical symposium with representatives from academia, mine operators, and manufacturers on methods to accurately identify the extent and perimeter of closed mining operations; and
Review existing Federal mine safety standards and practices designed to prevent mine inundations.
Together with the results of our investigation, this will give all of us in the mining community the information we need to prevent a recurrence of the ordeal at Quecreek.
And this review is going to encompass metal and nonmetal mines as well as coal mines.
Meanwhile, a few days after the rescue, President Bush met personally with the miners and rescuers. You may have seen the ceremony on the news.
I can tell you it was a true privilege to be there, in company with Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, and to shake the President's hand. After the moment when we first reached the miners and found them alive, President George W. Bush's words of praise for our role in that rescue made it the second proudest moment of my life.
It was inspiring to hear the President speak about the wonderful spirit of the miners and all who rushed to the rescue of neighbors in danger. "I truly believe," the President said, "the effort put in will serve as an example for others in a time of crisis." He called the Quecreek rescue an example of the spirit of America. It's a spirit we know quite well throughout the nation's mining industry, wherever there has been an emergency.
The President also spoke about the technology and know-how in the field of mine safety that went into the rescue. He said, "The best of America really is the use of our technology and know-how to save lives, and to help others in need." Again, that's something that we know quite well throughout the mining industry.
Know-how, technology and teamwork in fact, that's a perfect introduction to the points I want to bring out today.....the role of education and training, technical assistance and a new culture of teamwork.....not only in responding to accidents, but in preventing them.
State of the Industry's Safety and Health Performance
With that, let's take a look at the mining industry's safety and health performance. It may seem rather dry after the dramatic events at Quecreek. But in terms of preventing accidents, these dry facts and figures are significant.
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to go before a Congressional subcommittee and give a progress report on our ongoing efforts to improve miners' safety and health. I want to show you one of the charts that I showed the subcommittee, which I believe will interest you.
This chart shows a declining trend over the past 10 years in two important measurements of miner safety:
1) The percent of S&S violations, and
2) The rate of actual serious injuries.
Both of these measurements are declining -- and declining in parallel. This is exactly what you would expect to see, if serious mining hazards are on the decline. In other words, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act is achieving what it was intended to achieve.
As you might imagine, one of the questions we in MSHA heard from the subcommittee concerned MSHA's commitment to enforce the law. I have said repeatedly that on my watch, there will be no less enforcement. In fact, the overall number of violations written by MSHA increased last year.
But I would like to point out something to those believe that there should never be any change in the number of serious violations MSHA writes, and that any decline automatically means "lax enforcement." A little thought shows that just isn't the case.
If hazardous conditions that could cause serious injuries are on the decrease, we should expect to see serious violations drop. And that is what we do see: a decrease in serious injuries and a decrease in the percentage of "S&S" violations, which are defined as violations that are reasonably likely to cause a serious illness or injury.
The purpose of the Mine Act is not to write violations. It is to reduce serious injuries and illnesses in the Nation's mines. And that is what is happening. The numbers tell the story.
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. At the same time, I'd like you to notice that the graph also shows the trend is flattening. The rate of progress has been slowing for several 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, 39 mining fatalities have occurred nationwide, compared with 33 on this date a year ago.
We have seen many fatal accidents relating to human factors. Principles we need to reemphasize include staying under supported roof, locking and tagging out equipment while working on it, and properly setting brakes or blocking equipment against movement.
MSHA is not going to be able to stop accidents like these just by inspecting periodically for unsafe mining conditions and writing violations.
Many mines and miners have shown good safety performance, year after year. We need to expand the circle of their success. Where safety concerns exist, we need to look more deeply into the root causes. To do this, we need a balanced effort incorporating enforcement, education and training, and technical support, and we need to make compliance assistance a part of everything we do.
To get to the next level in safety and health, we can't just keep doing exactly what we have done before. We need to enlist the partnership of everyone in the mining industry organizations like yours, in particular. We need a cultural change in MSHA, and in the industry.
That cultural change is under way.
In MSHA we talk about three elements of success: enforcement, education and training, and technical support: each of which includes the key elementcompliance assistance. Together, they form our "MSHA triangle of success."
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. The mining industry should have just one MSHA to deal with, one organization and one message, one set of standards and one set of policies. We have charted a course for improvement, and we are under way.
The MSHA Team
In the 15 months that I have directed MSHA, an important concern has been building the MSHA team. An increasing number of MSHA's senior managers are eligible to retire. This reflects a trend throughout the whole Federal government. The rebuilding process has begun, and it is a critical step for long-term success.
You'll also notice that an increasing number of our managers are Certified Mine Safety Professionals, reflecting their commitment to a high stand of professional knowledge in their field.
John Caylor has been our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy since last October.
A safety and training executive with 30 years experience in industrial health and safety management, he most recently served as Vice President, Safety and Training, with Crescent Technology, Inc., an international consulting company providing professional safety and training services.
He has extensive safety and health management experience in the mining industry here and overseas with companies including Magma Copper, Anamax Mining Company, Cyprus Minerals, and Freeport-McMoran, Inc. He belongs to numerous professional and industry organizations, is a Board Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a Certified Safety and Health Manager (CSHM). He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ.
John R. Correll recently joined us as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations. John brings extensive knowledge and experience to the position. Since 1991 John was Director of Safety for Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc. Previously he worked 11 years with AMAX Coal Industries as Director of Safety & Workers Compensation in Indianapolis, and 5 years with Peabody Coal Company as Arizona Division Manager of Safety. He holds a B.S. degree in Safety and Environmental Management from Indiana State University. He is an M.B.A., a Certified Mine Safety Professional and a Certified Safety Executive.
I have also filled our two Administrator positions for Coal Mine Safety and Health and for Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health.
The position of Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health Administrator has been filled by Ray McKinney. Ray has been with MSHA for more than 25 years Ray has directed and participated in several rescue and recovery operations before Quecreek, and received the Department of Labor Valor Award for the safe rescue of a trapped miner at the Upper Taggart Mine in 1979.
Our new Administrator for Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health is Bob Friend. Bob has been with MSHA for almost 25 years, most recently serving as Deputy Administrator, and many of you know him well. He was well prepared to step into his new role.
Along with their other qualifications, both Ray and Bob are Certified Mine Safety Professionals.
In Coal Mine Safety and Health, we also have filled the positions of Director of Safety and Director of Health. Our new Director of Coal Mine Safety is Michael Miano. Mike worked in the coal industry for 27 years, holding key management positions in major companies. He then joined the State government in West Virginia, where he had responsibilities for environmental and transportation issues. He holds a bachelor's degree in Mining Engineering. Among others distinctions, in 1991 he was recipient of American Electric Power's Chairman Award for Underground Mine Safety.
Our new Director of Coal Mine Health is Melinda Pon. She has a bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences and a master's degree in Public Health. She has extensive experience in strategic, technical and public policy issues related to safety and health, and has an impressive history of working relationships and affiliations with worked with mining companies, associations and scientific associations here in the U.S. and abroad.
Filling these and other key management vacancies in MSHA has been a critical step because these highly qualified team members have key roles as we move to implement our management goals.
Setting the Course
Like all Federal agencies MSHA is working under the umbrella of the President Bush's long-term management agenda for improving the overall management and performance of the Federal government.
Within that framework, Secretary Chao established a strategic plan for the Department of Labor. Prominent in the Secretary's plan are Quality Workplaces. That means workplaces that are safe, healthful, and fair.
In this context we set specific goals in mine safety and health:
Reduce mining industry fatalities by 15 percent per year;
Reduce lost-workday injuries by 50 percent over four years;
Reduce coal mine dust and silica samples indicating overexposure by 5 percent per year;
And reduce noise samples that indicate overexposure by the same amount.
We also set goals for reducing accidents and workers' compensation costs within MSHA so we can lead by example and improve our financial management.
Moreover, as you know we held general stakeholder meetings in all of our 17 districts across the country last year, and special stakeholder meetings on education and training issues and on information technology. These had a tremendous response from all sectors'management, miners, industry and labor groups, and safety professionals. I held similar meetings with MSHA employees throughout the country.
From there, we developed a roadmap for MSHA, a set of initiatives and prerogatives for MSHA in the 21st Century that covered several key areas including enforcement compliance assistance, education and training, small mines and use of data. For the past several months we have been sharing these initiatives with stakeholders across the U.S., and I would now like to update you on our progress in implementing them..Enforcement
First, enforcement. Again, we have emphatically not reduced enforcement at MSHA. In fact, the number of inspection hours per mine increased last year.
At the same time, we're moving to improve our enforcement. We're correcting some inconsistencies that have existed in MSHA's enforcement patterns. We're looking closely at ways to make the best use of time during inspection visits. And, we're making long-term improvement to the fundamental training our compliance specialists receive. 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.
Compliance assistance is absolutely vital throughout the U.S. Department of Labor. For instance, Secretary Chao has created a new, permanent, senior position in the Department: a Director of Compliance Assistance. She also established a new toll-free call center for the entire Department -- one stop shopping for information.
You may never need that toll free number to reach us in MSHA, because we already have close working relationships. But all over this country are employers and employees who may be unclear about their responsibilities or the services available to them. There had never been one central number they could call. Now there is one.
And Secretary Chao emphasizes that the toll-free call center does not have "Caller ID." So no one will ever be fined for asking a question! That call center indicates how seriously the whole Department of Labor is taking compliance assistance.
Our district personnel have taken the compliance assistant message to heart. I wish you could have been with me at a recent senior staff meeting. Once a month we have a meeting in which all our district managers around the country participate by conference call. Hearing their reports, we know it is working. We are making compliance assistance a part of every mine visit. And in district after district, managers report special cooperative efforts at mines that are most in need.
At these mines, MSHA's compliance personnel are working together with mine operators and miners to identify roots causes of accidents and create training programs addressing those root causes. Some mines are reporting improvements in safety performance. And I would like to mention that some CEO's have become personally involved in these efforts which is absolutely the gold standard. There is nothing like involvement by the CEO to guarantee a high level of attention to getting results.
Moreover, we are taking steps to make MSHA's culture change, so that compliance assistance will be remain a key aspect of everything the agency does in the future.
Education and training.
In education and training, we are making a complete review of our existing materials and updating them.
We are systematically updating all our training films, transferring them to DVD, and developing new programs directly on DVD. We expect soon to release our first web-based interactive training program, on MSHA's new HazCom rule.
We're looking into simulators that can assist in training miners in new tasks. And we are exploring the potential of safety training methods used in the military.
We are also moving to translate training materials into Spanish. We now have Best Practice reference cards for miners available in Spanish on a wide range of safety topics. Ultimately, we plan to have 120 publications and 26 videos translated into Spanish. Our web site is now available in Spanish, also.
To assist mine operators in developing training plans, MSHA developed a Starter Kit that contains a training plan for mine operators to use as a template. We provide compliance assistance as part of the training plan review and approval process.
We worked with one mine operator to develop a comprehensive training program in health and safety for all 700 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're trying new way to reach miners directly for instance our explosion propagation demonstration that has been on the road taking the safety message to miners throughout the country.
Secretary Chao has emphasized compliance assistance to small businesses, and in all of our activities we are giving special attention to the needs of small mines.
Small mines are more likely to be without professional safety staff and have fewer resources. By this autumn, we will open a small mine safety and health office that will be devoted entirely to assisting the small mine operator.
In addition, we are developing a "small mine starter kit" to provide everything a small mine operator needs to know about MSHA. This helps small operators who can feel overwhelmed in trying to sort out what they need from all the available information.
Small mines also can have special conditions in which a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't make sense. For instance some months ago, we were approached by a group of small operators of bluestone mines in the Northeast United States.
We talked with them, visited the quarries, and found that these small mine operators were understandably confused and frustrated with some of the extensive MSHA requirements. As one example, they pointed out that MSHA required a stretcher to be available, even in a one-man operation!
Since then we've provided extensive compliance assistance to these small quarries, we are exploring ways to provide more flexibility, and the quarry operators have expressed their appreciation.
Use of data.
In line with President Bush's emphasis on e-government, we are moving forward rapidly to provide more data and services on MSHA's web site.
Here are some examples:
We have placed data prominently on our web site concerning the most frequently cited violations in each sector of the mining industry. We're developing compliance tips to go with them.
We have redesigned the MSHA web page in line with the Department of Labor web page and made it easier for stakeholders to find materials they need.
We've established a system for to assure prompt and accurate turnaround on e-mail inquiries to the MSHA web site.
We're developing a system for maintaining e-mail mailing lists to distribute Fatalgrams, policy letters, news releases and other timely materials.
We're expanding the electronic filing of forms, with the goal of moving away from paper filings.
And in our rulemaking projects, we're placing all public comments on the MSHA web site, where they are easily available to stakeholders.
This brings me to rulemaking activities.
As you know, last year we shortened the list of rulemaking projects on our semi-annual regulatory agenda. Many items had been on the list for years, without progress. We have fewer regulatory items, and we are moving forward on them.
Whenever we take action on a rulemaking, there has to be a real need, and rulemaking has to be the most appropriate solution. We will always request and thoughtfully consider input from our stakeholders to develop the most effective and workable rules for protecting miners' safety and health. So far as possible we will work towards general agreement in rulemaking, with an outcome that all parties can accept as necessary and practical. Finally, we've made compliance assistance as an integral part of the rulemaking process.
As an example, take our HazCom rule which was recently published in the Federal Register. As you know, that rule was originally published late in the year 2000 as an "interim final rule." Last year we reopened the rulemaking record and held seven additional public hearings to make sure there was ample opportunity for public comment on the rule before it became effective.
The final rule reflects the input we received and has some significant differences from the original "interim final" rule. We also paid special attention to the special needs of small mines. The effective date for most mines is three months from publication, but for the smallest mines-- those with five employees or fewer-- the effective date is 9 months from publication.
We have now held 15 national informational meetings to help the mining industry comply with the HazCom rule including one recently in Norton, Virginia. We're providing a detailed, readable guide to understanding HazCom; PowerPoint presentations; and a self-paced, interactive guide that will explain all sections of the regulation. We also intend to conduct compliance assistance training during every mine's first inspection under the final rule. We are committed to providing compliance assistance on HazCom to every mine operator who requests it.
In another step forward, we recently reached a second interim agreement with industry and labor concerning the agency's standard on diesel particulate matter (DPM) at metal and nonmetal mines. I'm gratified that industry, labor and MSHA were able to come together to resolve differences. It shows what we can do when we work together toward a common objective.
Under a previous agreement, we conducted joint sampling with industry, labor and government at 31 underground mines to determine existing concentration levels of diesel particulate matter and to gather information about the feasibility of complying with the standard's concentration limits in the underground mine environment.
For the next year we will work intensively together to reduce exposures to diesel particulate matter that increase the risk of lung disease in miners. We also will reenter rulemaking on several provisions in the metal and nonmetal DPM standards.
Among other rulemaking projects that are ongoing, we are taking another look a new rule to allow mine equipment to be tested for approval purposes by independent labs. We also are engaged in an extensive, long-term effort to review existing regulations and policies in line with the President's goals. The aim there is to identify provisions that are outdated, redundant, unnecessary or otherwise require change.
In all of these projects, we want your input and input from the whole mining community.
I want to thank those of you who are participants with MSHA in all these activities, and 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.
It is one thing to have information about how to keep mines safe and healthy. And we are working very hard to make that information available throughout the mining industry. But information is just the beginning. There has to be a habit of doing the safe thing, a habit so ingrained that safety has become a value.
It is also a value 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 your business success, then you know that it gets results. It's all about results!
You also know that positive safety and health performance enhances efficiency, productivity, and even profits. From every point of view, safety is a value.
Let's Show What We Can DoTogether
As you look at MSHA, you should now be seeing an agency that:
Goes beyond traditional enforcement mechanisms;
Emphasizes human factors;
'searches for new methods and technological innovations;
°Fosters a culture of health and safety excellence; and
Collaborates with and listens to our stakeholders -- the citizens.
All this is good for miners, and good for everyone. And we are inviting and counting on you to help lead the way -- not only in the mining industry, but for all Americans.
Does that seem like an overstatement?
One of MSHA's employees recently showed me a letter to the editor about the Quecreek rescue. A gentleman in Cherryfield, Maine, wrote as follows:
"This story has everything that is good about America......What we witnessed was the ultimate American spirit in action. Those who hate us can hijack planes, destroy buildings, set off bombs and kill hundred of Americans. But as far as breaking the American spirit, they don't have a chance. I am proud to be a citizen of a nation where common people, united in spirit, could pull off the type of rescue that ended in triumph in Pennsylvania."
What we do in the mining community, the spirit we show, the way we work together, really can have an impact far beyond ourselves and our industry. Relatively few of us may have the opportunity to take part in such a frankly dramatic situation as Quecreek. However, we all have the opportunity to bring the same passion and commitment to our fellow Americans to the task of preventing injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the Nation's mines, that we have brought -- over and over -- to our response in mine emergencies.
Success in reaching the next step in mine safety and health will require everyone's commitment and most importantly, our performance. Let's show the world what we can dotogether.
Thank you, and God bless America.
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