"Mining Safety Supervision In the United States"
Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor
China International Forum on Work Safety
October 10, 2002
Thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you for inviting me to address this group today.
The mineral industries are critical to the economy in both China and the U.S. Our nations are the world's two largest producers of coal, and both of our nations produce a wide variety of other important minerals. I know that we share similar goals on mine safety and health issues. The mine safety laws adopted by China in 1992 and 1996 testify to China's commitment to protect the lives of miners.
It has been a pleasure for the U.S. to host several groups of visitors from China's mining sector for mine visits and for tours of our national mine safety and health training academy. It was a special pleasure to have a mine rescue team from China this summer take part in our International Mine Rescue and First Aid Contests. We look forward to additional opportunities for cooperation.
Today, I plan to briefly review the history of our Nation's mine safety and health experience. I will then describe our current mine safety and health system in the U.S. Since we share an interest in mine rescue, I will discuss mine rescue in the United States. Finally, I will add a few words about International Labor Organization Convention 176 on mine safety and health.
In North America, minerals were mined both before and after European settlement. However, only in recent times did mining become a major industry.
More than 100 years ago the United States experienced a great economic transformation that we call the "industrial revolution." This trend was especially rapid from about 1850 to 1900 C.E.
Some key elements of this transformation included:
Mechanization of all types of processes;
Use of interchangeable machine parts;
Development of highly-organized production systems; and
Ever-increasing use of steam power later, electricity; and
Rapid expansion of free markets.
By the way, we have not forgotten that basis for the industrial growth of the West was built in part upon inventions that came first from China porcelain, paper, and printing to name just a very few examples. Of course, China developed the first explosives, and today explosives are used in the mining industry throughout the whole world and in fact, the mining industry is the largest user of explosives in the U.S..These changes along with many others made it possible for the U.S. to produce more goods at lower cost and distribute them more widely. More raw materials also were needed, including coal and other minerals. By 1900, our Nation's coal industry employed some 500,000 miners.
At the same time, safety in our mines was not keeping pace with production. In one year, 1907, more than 3,000 lives were lost in our coal mines alone. In the metal and nonmetallic sectors, hundreds more deaths were occurring. Major mine disasters were commonplace. In fact, the overall toll of fatalities in the U.S. mines during the early years of the 20th Century was not unlike that being experienced in China today.
As in China today, the safety concerns did not go unnoticed. The first governmental efforts in the U.S. to improve safety in the mines came at the State and local levels, with certain States and localities adopting some basic mine safety rules. However, by 1910 there was general agreement that action was needed on the national level to reduce the overall record of mining fatalities.
As a result, the Congress of the United States created the first national agency to address miner safety and health, the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
One key task for the Bureau of Mines was research. A hundred years ago there was little scientific understanding of mine hazards. The Bureau of Mines collected information on the limited research that had been done. At that time, most of the research into mine safety that existed had been done in Europe. The agency researched this information and conducted its own scientific experiments. The Bureau of Mines established that to prevent mine explosions, both methane and coal dust must be rigorously controlled.
Another key task was education. The Bureau of Mines distributed information on how to prevent mine explosions throughout the whole mining community. In the 1920's they actually had specially fitted railways cars that could serve as mobile classrooms to teach rescue techniques and lessons on preventing mine accidents.
They also mailed out publications presenting safety alerts and information on how to prevent accidents. We continue this today, but now we have a database with mailing addresses for every mine in the U.S. -- and we are increasingly using the Internet.
The U.S. mining industry began to understand that:
Every underground coal mine needs a carefully planned ventilation system to remove explosive methane gas;
Employees need to test for explosive gases regularly as conditions can change;
Open flames are extremely dangerous and electric equipment used near the mining face needs to be specially designed not to cause explosions;
Combustible materials need to be cleaned up, and powdered limestone applied to the mine surfaces to prevent coal dust from amplifying explosions.
The Bureau of Mines extended additional research and education efforts to address other important hazards such as mine collapses. It started to collect national statistics as a basis for safety analysis. Its personnel studied the best ways to respond to mine emergencies. It acquired and developed specialized rescue equipment. In addition, the mine rescue contests that we still hold today were started soon after 1910.
At that time Europe was our first source for technology such as breathing apparatus that could supply air to rescuers during a mine emergency. We first acquired the European technology, and then improved on it.
In response, the safety of our Nation's mines began to improve.
As the decades passed, the role of the U.S. Federal government in mine safety and health expanded further. The first mandatory Federal safety standards for mines were adopted about 50 years ago. Still later, the Federal government became responsible for additional activities including:
Investigating all fatal mine accidents;
Conducting regular inspections of mines;
Responding to safety complaints from miners; and
Taking enforcement actions in case of violations of Federal safety rules.
At the same time, technology advanced. The process of mechanization came to the mining industry relatively late. Until the 20th Century, most work in mines was still done without the help of powered machinery. Mechanization played a critical role in improving the safety and health of miners.
Mechanization, of course, was not without its own hazards. To return to the 19th Century, one of the first new technologies to be introduced in our underground metal mines was the use of pneumatic (compressed-air) drills.
Due to lack of medical knowledge at the time, no one realized that the use of pneumatic drills could lead to a health problem. The drills increased the amount of respirable silica dust in the air and led to cases of silicosis among miners. However, once the connection was recognized, drills could be designed to automatically wet down the dust, providing improved production with improved health protection.
Today, we have stringent standards and technology in place to control dust exposure in all of the nation's mines, and we continue working to reduce miners' exposure to respirable dust.
Up to the present day, America's mines have continued the trend to mechanization. Some complain that the increased productivity trend reduces the number of available jobs for miners. However, some recognized that while more productive mining machinery would mean fewer jobs, they would be better jobs, safer jobs, and provide better lives for miners and their families. Therefore mechanization was embraced. Production has grown even while the hours worked in mining declined.
The U.S. coal industry went from drilling and blasting to continuous mining with machinery.
Today underground longwall operations slice coal from mine faces that are hundreds of meters long and require even fewer miners to be exposed to hazards. However, longwall technology cannot be used in every mine because it requires certain geological conditions. Key examples of safety technology that is used in U.S. mines today include hand-held gas detectors, self-contained self-rescue devices that supply an hour of oxygen in an emergency, automated temporary roof supports, and mine-wide atmospheric monitoring systems. Some of these are quite recently adopted in the U.S.
Some safety technologies require large capital investment; others require relatively little expense. In the U.S. as in China, we have small mines that do not have the resources of large mining operations. We provide special assistance to these mines in safety and health management, including information about low-cost safety measures. Meanwhile, it is my experience that strong safety efforts are a good investment. By investing in the safety of an operation, the mine becomes safer, more productive and more profitable.
Returning to the history of safety and health in U.S. mines, the historic Bureau of Mines no longer exists as such, but its mission continues. The latest amendments to the Federal mine safety and health law came in 1977 and established the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which I direct, in the U.S. Department of Labor.
Miners' health concerns also became an increasing part of the agency's responsibility. The safety and health performance of our Nation's mines has improved continuously. Our present Federal mine safety and health law provides several complementary tools for improving miner safety: enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance.
Productivity in our mines today is at the highest point in history, and our mines are safer than they have ever been. Last year, our total mining industry had 72 fatalities. That was the fewest mining fatalities on record, and we are still working to improve.
Looking at the coal industry, just 115,000 U.S. coal miners produce over 1 billion tons of coal annually, the highest production in history.
The single greatest lesson we have learned during our past experience is that it is not necessary to choose between production and safety and health -- just the opposite. In fact, productivity is enhanced with effective safety and health management through a better understanding of hazard recognition, better technology, and effective safety systems.
U.S. Mining Industry
Turning to the present, the organization in which I serve as director is responsible for promoting the safety and health of all mines in the United States, that is about 15,000 mines employing some 350,000 miners.
The United States is the world's largest producer of coal. Coal provides more than half of our electric power, and we produce more than one billion tons of coal annually. Coal is mined in about half of our 50 States.
Another prominent sector is the mining of aggregates that is, stone, sand and gravel. We have as many people mining stone, sand and gravel as we do mining coal.
In addition, the U.S. mines about 70 mineral commodities in all. These are as varied as gold, silver, copper, iron, salt, potash, phosphate, talc, clay, and gemstones. The great majority of these operations are surface mines, but we do have underground mines producing both metals and nonmetallic minerals. Metal and nonmetal commodities are produced in every one of our 50 States.
The largest proportion of the U.S. mining workforce is employed at medium to large-sized mining operations. At the same time, about two-thirds of the mines in the U.S. are small operations with fewer than 10 employees, many of which only work intermittently. Small mines frequently need extra assistance in safety and health.
All mines in the U.S. come under the oversight of our organization, the Mine Safety and Health Administration or as we pronounce the acronym, MSHA. That is the case whether the mine is large or small, surface or underground, and regardless of its location within the United States.
We in the United States are very proud of our historic progress in mine safety. Our mining industry is among the safest in the world.
As I mentioned, last year, the numbers of fatalities in the United States declined to a record low of 72. We are not satisfied with that, however; more progress is necessary and possible. Only zero fatalities is acceptable.
Nonfatal injuries that cause lost days of work are another important measure of safety performance.
Last year, our rate of these injuries was 3.19 for every 200,000 employee-hours worked. That represented a decline from 3.49 in the previous year, and a decline of 44 percent since 1990, a trend in the right direction.
All mines in the U.S. must report injuries to our agency. We maintain a comprehensive database of this information. Our safest mines receive national awards, which are highly coveted.
Each year many U.S. mines work year after year without a lost-time accident, let alone a fatal accident. We are working diligently to bring all mines in the U.S. to this level of safety performance.
MSHA - The System
Now, I will turn to the Mine Safety and Health Administration itself -- our mission, how we are structured, the law we administer, and how the various components of the organization work together.
Since 1910 our laws on mining safety and our organization have evolved step by step until we reached our current situation.
Today, our mission is to administer the provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. This 25-year-old law calls for a balanced approach among enforcement, education and training, and technical support.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has substantial powers and responsibilities under this law. However, it is important to remember that the control of the mining operation and the ultimate responsibility for the safety and health of the miners always belong to the mine's operator. In addition, our law gives specific rights to miners in the area of safety and health.
Our law creates a framework within which miners, mine operators and the U.S. government can work together as partners. We have other partners as well: our individual States, certain educational institutions, the manufacturers of mining equipment, engineers and consultants, safety and health professionals, and others. When we speak of the U.S. system for promoting miner safety and health, therefore, it means more than the organization in which I serve -- there is far more to the overall system.
The law that we administer was enacted by the U.S. Congress, which also exercises general oversight. The President administers the law through the Secretary of Labor, currently the Honorable Elaine L. Chao, and the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health, which is my current position.
In addition, to ensure fairness, actions that we take in the Mine Safety and Health Administration are subject to review by the judicial branch of government through the Federal courts.
The activities of the Mine Safety and Health Administration are coordinated with those of the entire Labor Department under the guidance of Secretary Chao. Secretary Chao has established a strategic plan for the Department of Labor. A critical goal of the Department's work is to promote Quality Workplaces -- that is workplaces that are safe, healthful, and fair. .Secretary Chao also has established a 21st Century Workforce Initiative, whose goal is to ensure that all American workers have as fulfilling and financially rewarding a career as they aspire to have, and to make sure that no worker gets left behind in the limitless potential of the dynamic, global economy of this new millennium. Safe and healthful mine workplaces are just one aspect.
The U.S. mine safety law was last amended in 1977. Its provisions are widely accepted by the industry and miners, and serious violations of the law are decreasing, which reflects progress towards a safer mining industry. Our mine safety law also served, in significant part, as the model for developing our Occupational Safety and Health Act, which affords protections to workers in general U.S. industry.
As mentioned, the basic Federal mine safety and health law was enacted by the U.S. Congress. This law provides the framework, but Congress did not determine all the details of the rules to be followed in the mining industry. MSHA is responsible for issuing detailed standards to be followed at all mines. We also revise the rules when needed. The specific standards in some cases depend on the type of mine -- surface or underground, coal or metal and nonmetal.
Whenever we create or revise the rules for mine safety and health, we involve the public extensively. We encourage mine operators, miners and other members of the public to speak at public hearings to discuss proposed changes. We ask for and consider written comments as well.
We have started sharing the comments we receive on our web site. We try to develop rules that can be accepted as necessary and reasonable by everyone.
As I mentioned, our law calls for us to follow a balanced approach that includes enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance.
Let us turn first to the subject of enforcement.
Under our law MSHA must inspect each surface mine two times a year and each underground mine four times a year.
These inspections are conducted by personnel from the two largest divisions of our organization, the Coal Mine Safety and Health group and the Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health group.
The agency has these two major divisions because each represents a sector of the mining industry with unique safety and health concerns. Many of the specific health and safety regulations covering coal mines also are unique and separate from the specific rules for metal and nonmetal mining.
Our Coal Mine Safety and Health Group and the Metal and Nonmetal group each are divided into regions. Each region has several small offices in mining areas throughout the United States.
The majority of our employees are assigned to these small offices. They spend most of their time visiting mines to conduct inspections.
The law gives compliance personnel from MSHA a right to enter any mine at any time, without advance notice, to conduct an inspection. This feature of our mine safety and health law is unique and differs from other industries in the United States.
During an inspection, our personnel determine whether a mine operator is in compliance with health and safety standards. These standards are quite comprehensive: they cover safety issues such as roof control, methane control, electrical and equipment safety. They also include health standards designed to protect miners from lung disease, hearing impairment, and other health problems.
One of the rights that miners enjoy in the United States is the right to accompany our compliance personnel on these inspections. The miners at each mine can elect anyone they choose to fulfill this role. This is true whether or not miners at the operation belong to any labor organization.
During 2001, MSHA's compliance specialists conducted nearly 21,400 of these mandatory inspections.
Whenever a violation of safety or health standards is found, our law requires that the compliance specialist issue a document known as a citation to the mine operator. The specialist also sets a time within which the mine operator must correct the condition.
In certain situations, MSHA compliance personnel also may order a mine operator to remove the miners from the mine or, more typically, a part of a mine. This may be necessary to protect miners from an immediate danger, or to secure an area after a serious accident has occurred. It can also be necessary when there has been an extreme degree of negligence on the part of the operator or where a hazard has not been corrected in a reasonable time.
Most mine operators want to comply with the law, but some need assistance in understanding what is required, in finding the underlying causes of problems, or in training miners in optimal health and safety practices. Our compliance specialists and others in our organization can assist.
The personnel in our regions have additional responsibilities. For instance, they also investigate accidents, review mine plans, and respond to safety complaints.
We investigate all fatal-injury accidents in the mining industry, and certain other serious incidents. We share our findings on our web site so that everyone in the mining industry can learn from them.
Our regional offices review mine plans. As you know, there is not a detailed set of rules and regulations that could fit every mine, because each mine is different. In the U.S., underground coal mines, for instance, must have plans for control of the mine roof and plans for the ventilation system, among others.
The operator of the mine devises the engineering plans appropriate to the specific mining conditions. Our technical (engineering) specialists review and approve the plans. The mine then must follow the plans. Other types of plans that we review concern control of dust, miner training, and response to emergencies.
Our compliance personnel also respond to complaints. Every miner in the U.S. has the right to contact MSHA and request an inspection at any time a hazard is believed to exist.
The law prohibits any retaliation against miners who request an inspection or who take advantage of their other rights in the area of safety and health. If there is evidence of retaliation, we can take the miner's complaint before a judge and ask for an order to correct the situation. If the miner has been discharged, the miner may be able to return to the job temporarily while waiting for a complaint of retaliation to be resolved.
Our compliance specialists also represent a highly effective communications network reaching every mine in the U.S. They speak directly with the management of each mine, and also with individual miners, when they visit the mine. They alert the mine operators and the miners to safety and health trends. They help them identify the fundamental causes of any problems and provide information on safe and healthful practices. We are currently training our compliance personnel to be even more effective in this important role.
Another aspect of enforcement is that each violation of the safety and health standards identified results in a monetary penalty.
These penalties may range up to $55,000 U.S. for each violation. Most violations receive smaller penalties. The amounts depend on several criteria, including the size of the business, the seriousness of the violation, and the mine operator's negligence involved in the occurrence. Violations that are not serious and are corrected promptly may receive the lowest penalty, $55 U.S.
I have said that actions we take in the Mine Safety and Health Administration are subject to review by the U.S. Federal court system. However, we also have several methods to resolve disagreements before involving the Federal courts. Operators who disagree with an inspector about a violation can talk it over with supervisory compliance personnel before the penalty is determined.
If the disagreement isn't resolved at that level, the operator is entitled to a hearing before a judge who works for a special organization that was created specifically to review issues concerning mine safety and health, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
In those few cases where there is intentional failure to follow the law, there may be criminal penalties. Our organization investigates possible cases and turns over information to the U.S. Department of Justice, but we do not make the decision whether to prosecute. Only the Department of Justice can do that. Criminal prosecutions are not very common, but they do occur.
Again, the only violations subject to criminal prosecution under our mine safety and health law are those in which there is evidence of intentional misconduct. For instance, a number of cases have involved fraud and misrepresentation. Penalties for criminal violations of the mine safety and health law include monetary fines and, in a few cases, prison.
As you have heard, the enforcement actions taken by MSHA are proportional to the seriousness of a situation. As most mine operators make strong efforts to comply with the regulations, the severest penalties are relatively uncommon, but sometimes they are necessary.
Education and Training
Our mine safety and health law entitles miners to specific safety and health training for their jobs. The operator of each mine is responsible to make sure that miners receive this training. The actual training may be performed by the mine operator, by various educational institutions, or private contractors. In addition, MSHA provides monetary grants to the States to conduct or arrange for miner training, especially for the employees of small mines.
Our Educational Policy Development group provides advice and assistance with miner training. This organization also manages our National Mine Health and Safety Academy. This Academy is one of the world's largest facilities dedicated solely to reducing accidents and improving health conditions in the mining industry through education and training. It is located in Beckley, in the State of West Virginia in the eastern United States, one of our most important coal mining areas. More than 400,000 MSHA employees, miners, mine operators and other industry personnel have received training there.
Students at the Academy are exposed to disciplines including ground control, mine emergency and mine rescue, ventilation, electrical, machinery, industrial hygiene, computer, health and safety inspection procedures, accident prevention and accident investigations. Students can also receive mine emergency training in our Mine Simulation Laboratory..Four entries (tunnels) and nine crosscuts (connecting tunnels) on the lower level represent a typical operation of a coal mine. The upper level contains a series of drifts or passageways to simulate an underground metal mine.
The facility also contains a large ventilation fan and a fireproof room where realistic fire control training can be conducted. Outside the main structure, there are three concrete pads where exercises are conducted in the control of fires involving flammable gases and flammable liquids.
Mine ventilation, basic mine emergency operations and fire protection also are taught in the Laboratory, along with other Academy training courses.
Many foreign delegations have visited the Academy and taken advantage of its resources. Through the years, we've welcomed groups from nations, including Australia, Canada, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico South Africa, Peru -- and of course, China.
The Academy also develops training materials for use by the mining industry. These vary from small cards that list good safety and health practices to comprehensive training programs in DVD format. There are also pamphlets, books and videos.
Our Office of Technical Support provides engineering and technical aid to help solve safety and health problems. This part of the organization also approves equipment and materials for safe mining use. Its personnel assist in mine emergencies and accident investigations.
We maintain technical facilities in the States of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These facilities employ engineers, chemists, physicists and others who provide expertise to solve safety and health problems in the mines.
The Pittsburgh Safety and Health Technology Center, in Pennsylvania, also operates laboratories for weighing and analyzing respirable silica and coal dust samples and analyzing samples of gases, liquids, and solids to determine if health hazards exist in the mines. MSHA's compliance personnel and mine operators collect respirable dust samples, which are weighed by robotic equipment. The Center responds to requests for assistance on safety and health problems at mines nationwide, as well as those from foreign countries.
Our Approval and Certification Center, in West Virginia, tests and approves certain mining products. These include electrical equipment for use in underground mines with methane.
Technical experts evaluate and test equipment, instruments, and materials for safety. The MSHA approval issued by the Center is internationally recognized.
In discussing technical and educational assistance, I also want to mention our Office of Program Evaluation and Information Resources. This is our data-processing group. The group collects, analyzes, and publishes data obtained from mine operators on work-related injuries and illnesses in the mining industry. This group is also responsible for MSHA's automated information systems, data communications networks, data processing equipment, and our site on the World Wide Web. In 2001, MSHA's web site had 55 million hits.
Our web site provides quick access to the text of our mine safety and health law, regulations and policies. It provides up-to-date safety and health statistics, information on safe and healthful practices and alerts on current concerns. Mine operators can electronically file certain required data directly through our web site.
You can also ask us questions or communicate with us through our web site.
In speaking about technical assistance, I understand that many of you are interested in hearing about our resources for mine emergency response.
In the United States, when a serious accident occurs at a mine, mine operators are required to immediately contact the nearest MSHA office.
When a major accident is reported -- such as a fire, explosion or inundation -- the manager in the responsible MSHA region immediately dispatches personnel to the site. MSHA's notification plan goes into effect, whereby the appropriate administrator at MSHA headquarters is notified, followed by the Assistant Secretary of Labor. Other MSHA personnel also are notified.
In an emergency MSHA compliance personnel immediately issue an order to control activity at the mine. The purpose of this order is to ensure the safety of every miner working in a rescue or recovery effort.
With this order in place, the mine operator still has control and responsibility, but must seek approval from MSHA for actions that are to be taken. In the response to an emergency, MSHA consults closely with the mine operator, with any State mining authority, and the representative of the miners.
If needed, mine rescue teams are notified to report to the mine. By law, every underground mine in the U.S. must have access to at least two qualified mine rescue teams. These teams must be within a two-hour drive of that mine. MSHA itself has two Mine Emergency Units assigned to either Coal or Metal and Nonmetal. The Mine Emergency Unit consists of 42 safety and health specialists, a trainer, and a supervisor -- all of whom volunteer for this duty.
Mobile Command Centers
Our Mine Emergency Unit maintains two types of mobile offices or "command centers," which can be deployed at any mine where a major emergency occurs. This unit is usually staffed and operated by Mine Emergency personnel at the site of the emergency. It contains three separate offices and supplies to support any type of extended field operation.
MSHA may also send its mobile gas analysis van to an emergency site. Gas samples taken from the mine can be analyzed directly by MSHA personnel using gas chromatographs installed in the van.
We use computer models to interpret the results of gas sampling to determine if a mine fire is still burning or if there is danger of an explosion. Additional mine emergency equipment also is maintained by MSHA for emergency use if needed.
Additional mine emergency equipment includes:
Two seismic location systems which can detect and locate the source of sounds produced by trapped miners.
TV probes that with miniature TV cameras that can be lowered down a shaft or borehole.
A Mine Emergency Robot that can go into areas that would be unsafe for persons. . A unique emergency escape capsule that can be lowered into a borehole to rescue trapped miners. Recently it was used to rescue nine miners trapped by an inundation of water in the Quecreek Mine in our State of Pennsylvania.
At the Quecreek Mine, nine miners were trapped for some 77 hours in a flooded mine. The first step we took was to drill a small borehole from the surface and locate their position. The next phase was to drill a larger hole to bring them out of the mine. However, rapidly rising water and lack of oxygen both threatened to overcome the miners before we could bring them to safety.
We forced compressed air down the small borehole to maintain an air pocket for the miners, while we obtained and set up pumps to reduce the water level.
Meanwhile we worked on two parallel escape shafts. There was a danger if we had put through an escape shaft while the water was still being held back by the compressed air in the small borehole. The escape shaft could have released the trapped air and let the water rise.
So we waited until the pumps lowered the water enough, and then put one of the rescue shafts through. The miners were brought out using our escape capsule..The Mine Safety and Health Administration had some 50 people directly involved in this rescue, including myself. The State of Pennsylvania, the mining company, other private firms, and individual volunteers all took part. It was a real triumph of the mine emergency response system in the U.S.
Our agency investigates all severe accidents in U.S. mines, including all fatal accidents and many other all major emergencies. We find out the cause in order to prevent future incidents. The reports of all our investigations are made publicly available on our web site so that the entire mining community can learn from each incident.
In the case of the Quecreek accident, we are currently conducting such an accident investigation. The flood at Quecreek occurred when the miners unexpectedly encountered the water-filled tunnels of another mine that had been closed decades ago. We know that information about old mines in the U.S. is not complete, and we are now starting a national project to improve our information to help prevent such accidents in the future.
We are planning 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.
This review will encompass metal and nonmetal mines as well as coal mines. This kind of follow-up is an important part of our response to all mine emergencies.
Mine Rescue Training and Contests
Training and preparing teams for possible underground emergencies where miners may need to be rescued also is an important function for us. Mine rescue teams in the U.S. frequently compete in regional contests to test their skills. Each year we also hold a national contest. A few years ago, we began holding an international contest in conjunction with our national contest in which, as you know, China has participated. We hope that will continue!
Because managers play a critical role in crisis management during mine emergencies, MSHA also has created a program called Managerial Emergency Response Development. This program uses emergency scenarios and role-playing exercises to test and sharpen managerial response to emergencies.
The simulations are the heart of the program. They are modeled after emergency situations. This technique of playing different roles in the emergency allows each participant to experience problems, explore solutions and interact with other personalities that they may encounter in a mine emergency.
For more than 20 years, we have conducted annual exercises to practice our crisis management skills, and we have offered similar training to managers in the mining industry.
Now I'd like to say a little more about some current trends and activities.
I have said that we in the United States are proud of our progress in safety and health. As I mentioned, in the early 20th Century when the U.S. government first became involved, thousands of lives were lost in our mines every year. The growth in scientific knowledge, new technology, education and a systematic approach to accident prevention have changed that, and our mines are among the safest in the world.
However, we are not satisfied because we know that even more progress is possible. During the past several years, progress has slowed. Clearly, we cannot be complacent. .Accordingly, we have set specific goals for our mining industry:
A reduction in the number of mining fatalities by 15 percent per year;
A reduction in our rate of serious injuries of 50 percent by the end of 2004.
Our mining industry, labor organizations and others have widely agreed that these are worthy and achievable goals.
Last year our organization held dozens of meetings throughout all the mining areas of the U.S. to talk with individuals in all sectors of the mining industry. We spent thousands of hours talking with management officials, safety and health professionals, labor organizations, miners, and others concerned with the safety and health of miners. We asked them for their advice and ideas on how to achieve these goals. We are now acting on what we heard.
One change is that we are placing more emphasis on compliance assistance. "Compliance assistance" means helping mine operators and miners by providing information that they need to comply with the law. It does not mean less enforcement or less inspections.
We are training our health, safety and compliance specialists 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. They are making every inspection into an opportunity for education as well.
I would like to mention that some heads of operating companies have become personally involved in these efforts. There is nothing more effective than involvement by top management to guarantee a high level of attention to getting results.
In the United States, we have many small mines, especially in the metal and nonmetal mining industry. Small mines are more likely to be without professional safety staff and have fewer resources. They also can have special conditions.
We recently opened a special small mine safety and health office that is devoted entirely to assisting the small mine operator.
Also to help the mining industry we are placing more and more data and services on our web site. This includes data concerning the most frequently cited violations in each sector of the mining industry; information about new standards under development; facilities for electronic filing of forms, and much more.
In addition to providing information and assistance, training, and enforcement, we also are emphasizing the need to make safety a value. Values are something that everyone possesses. For instance, most people hold values that include hard work, family, and respect for others.
To achieve our goals in safety and health, we are working to make safe and healthful practices a value throughout our mining industry. We are encouraging everyone in the U.S. mining industry to live and work according to this value, which will be critical to advance our record of improvements in safety and health. Instilling this value will mean that our miners will return home to their families, at the end of each workday, in a safe and healthy condition.
As I mentioned, we in the United States first adopted mine safety standards on the local and State level, then moved to national standards and a national system of mine inspections. In the last decade, the United States has expanded its participation in international cooperative activities to further the safety and health of miners.
We have exchanged visits and information on mine safety and health with dozens of individual Nations. We have been most gratified that China has been among these partners.
China and the United States first signed a protocol on cooperation in the field of mine safety and health in 1979. Over the next 20 years, one delegation from the United States made a visit to China to discuss mine safety and health, and two delegations from China visited the United States for study tours. However, since 2000 we are pleased to have hosted eight groups and delegations from China for this purpose, and it is therefore extremely gratifying to have this opportunity to visit China in return and learn about safety and health in your mining industry first-hand.
Also in recent years we have participated in numerous international meetings to exchange information on mine safety and health with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, the World Safety Congress, and of course the International Labor Organization.
Among other activities, the U.S. helped to lead the development of international standards for miners' safety and health, International Labor Organization Convention 176.
Many aspects of this international standard are actually based upon our experience under the U.S. mine safety and health legislation. Experience shows that the activities and protections specified in Convention 176 have truly been effective in bringing down U.S. miner deaths, injuries and illness to their present levels. .In my own career in the U.S. mining industry, before joining the government, I personally observed the importance and effectiveness of such provisions.
I also observed in my career with private industry the value of safety and health standards that are uniformly applied. As I have said, mines that operate safely also are productive and profitable.
However, I have also observed that without some form of regulation and inspection, some individuals do not understand this, and imagine that they can obtain higher profits or a competitive advantage by restricting expenditure on safety and health. This is misguided thinking, looking only at short-term benefit.
Uniform standards and inspections are therefore needed to discourage false cost-cutting measures leading to injuries and illnesses. Uniform rules and inspections encourage competition to find more efficient methods of safety management, to prevent hazards from arising and to remove hazards that do arise. Ultimately they lead to safer and more productive operations.
The benefits of common safety and health standards apply internationally as well as within any individual country. When nations agree on such standards, the safety and productivity of mines in all countries benefit. We understand that China is giving serious consideration to joining the 18 Nations that already have signed ILO Convention 176. I would like to encourage you.
I hope that I've provided you with some insight about the system administered by the U.S. government to help keep miners safe and healthy. I admire your genuine commitment to improve miner safety and health, and I congratulate you for your efforts. I will be interested to learn from you as this meeting continues and as we all work towards healthier, safer mines in our respective Nations.