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Remarks by Dave D. Lauriski
Before the West Virginia Coal Association
30th Annual Coal Symposium
Keynote Session
Charleston, W.Va.
January 9, 2003


Introduction

It's a great pleasure to be with you again this year. Thank you for the invitation.

I understand you also had an excellent health and safety workshop yesterday with officials from MSHA's two West Virginia districts District 4 manager Pat Brady and Bill Knepp from District 3.

By putting safety and health high on your agenda, you show your commitment to safety and health performance in the coal industry.

All of us in MSHA are looking forward to another year of progress, working together with you, with all West Virginia coal mine operators and miners, and of course with Doug Conaway of the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

It's a special pleasure to share the podium with today's distinguished lineup, including Jeff Jarrett of OSM.

And of course, Don Nehlen even though I'm a Utah native, I know that name and what it stands for -- determination, teamwork, success, and above all West Virginia! Don, it's a pleasure to meet you.

While mine safety and health definitely is not a game, it is an enterprise that has some things in common with football.

Of course, in mine safety the important thing is not competing with other teams, but competing with our own past successes. We improve our standings, by competing against ourselves. We study our statistics -- we spend a lot of time analyzing past performance and preparing for future demands.

Success in mine safety and health demands a strong and united team -- skilled individuals and teamwork. It takes determination and grit. And just as in football, what counts in safety and health is performance.

2002 results

Last year was a banner year in mine safety.

For the second year in a row the mining industry experienced its safest year on record. There were a total of 67 mining fatalities nationwide last year. That compares with 72 fatalities in 2001 -- which was itself a historic low record.

Everyone in the mining community should take pride in that progress. It could not have been achieved without the efforts of thousands of people throughout the mining industry.

The nation's coal industry not only reversed the unfavorable safety trend. Our nation's coal mines established a historic new safety record.

Last year there were 27 coal mining fatalities in the U.S., compared with 42 fatalities in 2001. It also improves on the previous low record of 29 coal mining fatalities, which was established in 1998.

Let's stop and think about that for a minute. It is not every day that a major, critical industry makes a breakthrough of this magnitude. After several years without the kind of progress we strive for, the U.S. mining industry made the kind of safety progress that it has been known for throughout history.

The industry has moved toward the next level of safety and health performance. Once again, you have the momentum with you. Our task in the coming year will be to build on that momentum, and take the next step to zero.

Here in West Virginia, you deserve special recognition, because last year's improvement in coal mine safety was even more notable than the improvement in the coal industry as whole. West Virginia coal mining deaths declined from 13 in 2001 to 6 last year. And you equaled your best performance ever.

Of course we are not satisfied with that and I am sure neither are you.

Mines that encompass MSHA's District 3 here in West Virginia, was completely free from fatal injuries in 2002 and have amassed over 40 days fatality-free. A true accomplishment. Congratulations.

Looking at nonfatal days-lost injuries, we do not yet have complete data for last year. However, in 2001, West Virginia had shown consistent, long-term decline in both the number and the rate non-fatal days-lost injury rates, but it appears last years numbers are up.

I congratulate you on West Virginia's safety progress but urge you to look at all your incidents. There is no question the West Virginia coal industry is positioned to continue its progress and set new records in the years to come. Not only is that good for your miners, it is good for your business.

Should we be satisfied? Absolutely not! We are going to keep working, taking those steps necessary to achieve zero fatalities throughout the mining industry. We are committed to keep working to reduce the accidents that cause injury, and illnesses. We also are committed to reduce "near misses" that may indicate weaknesses in safety and health management.

The noted businessman, Charles Schwab, once said: "I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism."

With that in mind, everyone in the West Virginia coal industry can feel proud of contributing to a new national safety record and an extraordinary leap in safety progress for the coal industry. May our success inspire all of us to exceed ourselves in the coming year.

The new paradigm

One year ago, at this meeting, I told you that we were developing an action plan to move MSHA and mine safety into the 21st Century. What emerged was a plan for a major change in thinking and performance both in MSHA and in the industry a paradigm shift.

Today, I can report that we are well along in the process of accomplishing that paradigm shift. Moreover, we can already see signs of progress to the next level in the industry's safety performance.

The plan builds on the success of the past. It uses the existing strengths of MSHA and the industry, and strengthens areas that were underemphasized. Under our management plan, MSHA is using all the tools that the law provides enforcement, with education and training and with technical assistance in what we call our Triangle of Success.

Our plan requires us to continue looking at safety and health violations, yes -- there can be no less enforcement. At the same time it requires us to look beyond just violations and also identify strengths and weaknesses so we can take preventative measures rather than reactive measures.

It requires us to provide that information to whole mining community. It requires us to improve our miner training materials, provide more useful data to you, and act as a clearing house for information on new technology. It requires us to work with mine operators, miners, manufacturers and others to reduce hazards and violations. And it requires us to lead by example.

MSHA's plan also reflects the orientation of the U.S. Department of Labor under the direction of Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. Secretary Chao 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 one critical phase of these Department-wide efforts. Moreover, Secretary Chao takes a personal interest in the safety and health of miners. I have had many discussions with her, and she has been highly supportive of MSHA's direction.

Implementing the Management Plan: 2002

During 2002, MSHA took several key steps in the implementation of our plan. Here are some changes you should have observed.

1. We strengthened our management team. Like other Federal agencies, MSHA's workforce is aging. Among the challenges that we have been faced with is the number of retirements that have occurred in critical positions. During 2002, we filled key positions with a group of exceptionally qualified managers.

Filling these key management positions in MSHA was a significant accomplishment in the last 20 months. Our current management team positions MSHA to carry the program forward into the 21st Century.

Equally important, we took steps to weld MSHA into a high-performing team. I made it clear to management and employees that we would become one MSHA, rather than a collection of separate organization whose activities, in the past, sometimes did not jibe. We constantly reevaluate the status of progress towards our various goals, and we share information throughout the agency. As a result, you should be experiencing an agency that is more consistent and pro-active.

2. We are incorporating outreach into our inspections. We are working with our health and safety specialists to do more than look for violations to use inspections as opportunities to reinforce safe work practices and procedures and evaluate overall safety progress at the mines they visit. When there are compliance problems, or special concerns about safety, they work with mine operators and miners to find the reasons and make changes to reverse the trend.

We take this principle seriously, not only here in West Virginia, but across the nation.

In District 3, our personnel have spent extensive time at selected mines as part of a program in cooperative safety analysis. The approach includes one-on-one discussions with miners to get to the root causes of safety and compliance difficulties and determine how to effect change. Several mines participating in the District 3 program have been able to measurably improve their safety performance. District 3 also has been working with mine operators and with Technical Support to survey the status of fire protection throughout the district and strengthen any areas of weakness.

In District 4, we have been working intensively with selected mines and with independent contractors as well to promote root cause analysis to create an effective safety culture throughout the district. District 4 has worked with the National Mine Health and Safety Academy setting up training for front-line supervisors, many of whom are relatively young and inexperienced.

The National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley provided some 50 safety and health training sessions last year for West Virginia miners, mine management and others. In addition to the supervisor training session, West Virginia mining companies have participated in tailored training sessions and seminars on roof control, accident prevention techniques, surface haulage, impoundment inspection and other topics. MSHA's Technical Support activity also provided tailored training, such as an on-site program to prevent back injuries for all three shifts at an underground coal mine in District 4.

3. We continued and strengthened our partnerships with State mine safety agencies and in particular the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

MSHA continued and strengthened its participation in the West Virginia Joint Accident Prevention Team. With participation by all sectors of the mining community, its mission is to identify and target health and safety concerns and to develop and distribute materials promoting safe work practices in the mining community. The group holds regular meetings to develop safety topics that are distributed to miners and mine operators by State and Federal safety and health specialists when they visit mines throughout the State, using the resources of the Academy.

In fiscal 2002, the Joint Accident Prevention Team became formally incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the State of West Virginia, paving the way for stepped-up activity in the coming year. We are looking forward to the next meeting, scheduled for February, which will determine the safety plan for the next few months.

We also share our training resources with personnel in the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training. For instance, MSHA provides 2 weeks of annual refresher training for its electrical safety and health specialists. We invite the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training to send their electrical specialists to this session.

West Virginia State personnel also have recently participated in training on diesel issues, impoundments, HazCom, mine rescue and other topics. In addition, we continue to work closely with Doug Conaway's office in preparing and conducting regional mine rescue contests every year.

By the way, MSHA's relationship with the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training showed excellent results this year in several incidents that ended without significant injuries. Working together, MSHA and the State of West Virginia some time ago developed safety recommendations for bulldozers working on stockpiles. The reason for the recommendations was to prevent the dozer operator from being suffocated should the dozer encounter an unsuspected void in the stockpile and become engulfed. Recommendations included use of a special windshield glass developed for aircraft applications, two-way radio, and on-board SCSR's.

In 2002, there were four such entrapment accidents nationwide two of them here in West Virginia. All four miners survived, three of them without injury.

In one of the recent West Virginia incidents, the dozer operator was having difficulty judging the position of the feeders due to the shape of the pile and due to bright sun. He trammed too close to a feeder. The dozer broke through into a void and fell 31 feet, ending up in a vertical position with the blade pointing up.

The dozer was equipped with high-strength glass, two SCSR's, emergency lighting, three forms of communication and other safety features. The window did not break and the operator was rescued using a crane.

In the other West Virginia incident, the bulldozer operator was not certain which feeder was activated. As a result, he trammed over an active feeder. This dozer had strengthened glass and support bars on the insides of the windows, as well as two SCSR's and two radios. The cab was damaged in the accident, but the miner was not hurt. Another dozer was used to dig out the machine, and the miner was successfully rescued.

In all three cases where the miner was not injured, the mine operator had adopted most or all of the recommendations for surge pile safety. West Virginia pioneered the safety measures with MSHA, and that's reason for West Virginians to be proud!

These are just a few of the activities in West Virginia that reflect the in-depth partnerships were are creating throughout the nation to reduce hazards and violations. We are working together in many more areas, as you will hear.

4. Last year we added informational services to our web site. These include more data those statistics that the mining community can use to assess progress. MSHA's web site requests input from the mining community on preventing fatal accidents and we also provide information about new safety and health technology. We have also made the web site available in Spanish.

As part of MSHA's ongoing efforts to strengthen our strategic partnerships with the states, MSHA developed applications allowing the West Virginia State mine safety personnel to access the mining data that MSHA maintains. This is the same extensive data MSHA inspectors have on their laptop computers. The information is obtained through a special web portal developed specifically for this purpose.

5. We are in the process of updating all of our education and training materials. Many of these were outdated, and we are bringing them up-to-date in form and in content. We are translating all the materials into Spanish. We issued our first training program in DVD and our first web-based, interactive training program. We are developing other innovative products.

6. We established a small mine office to address the specialized needs of the nearly 6,500 small mines around the country, that is mines with five or fewer employees. As you know, these small mines have a higher rate of fatal accidents as compared with larger ones.

MSHA's Small Mine Office will develop additional training materials tailored to small mines and focus compliance assistance and training visits on mines that do not have their own safety and training departments and cannot use Web-based resources

7. We stepped up the compliance assistance we offer when issuing a new rule. In June, when we issued the new HazCom rule, we followed it with national and local meeting throughout the U.S. to introduce the rule. We created the most complete tool kit ever, consisting of a compliance guide, interactive training course and other materials to help educate mine operators and miners about the requirements. Recognizing that small mines would reasonably need more time and assistance to adjust to the new rule, we allowed an extra 6 months to mine with five or fewer employees. I am proud of how smoothly the transition has gone.

8. We are now using root cause analysis in accident investigations. MSHA investigators not only look for violations that may have caused an accident. They also look beyond any violations to determine root causes. We do this so we can look beyond fault-finding to fact finding in order to provide good and useful prevention measures.

The principle of utilizing root cause analysis was critical in the Jim Walter No. 5 accident investigation. As you recall, that double explosion in Alabama in 2001 claimed 13 lives. The investigators' analysis of the Jim Walter explosion, together with experience in other accidents, showed us important gaps regarding emergency response and evacuation.

As a result, we issued an emergency temporary standard on emergency evacuations, temporarily bypassing normal rulemaking procedures to put protections in place immediately.

The new standard mandates that in any mine emergency, a designated responsible person must take charge and evacuate the mine if there is imminent danger to the miners. Only properly trained and equipped persons essential to respond to the emergency may remain underground. The temporary standard also broadens existing requirements for a program of instruction for firefighting and evacuation.

While the new rule became effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, we are now accepting comments. In February, we also will hold four public hearings on the temporary standard. I hope you will give us any thoughts you may have. We will review and consider all comments received, and we may modify the rule, before reissuing it in its final form. The process to make the rule permanent will be completed within the next nine months.

The legacy of the Jim Walter mine explosion, or any other mine accident for that matter, should be greater safety for all miners in the future.

9. We are promoting awareness of new technology. I mentioned our technology information on MSHA's web site. We are working also with the mining industry, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and State mine agencies to develop and test new technology.

Here in West Virginia, we are currently testing a proximity device for remote-controlled continuous miners. As you know, remote-controlled miners allow miners to stay back from the most hazardous areas, but they also have been involved in a number of serious accidents. The proximity device, would detect a miner's presence and shut off the mining machine if it gets too close.

MSHA's Technical Support staff worked with the manufacturer of a proximity detector that was originally designed for surface applications. The device was modified so that it would meet criteria for permissibility. The system includes an antenna mounted on the machine and a belt-worn unit. When the machine operator or helper gets within a certain distance of the machine, an alarm sounds; at a shorter distance, the unit shuts down the machine.

Working with the manufacturer and mine operator, MSHA has issued an experimental permit to operate the equipment in order to test it. Field trials will extend over a four-week period. The results of the field trial will help to determine optimum distances and location for installation of the antenna.

Technical Support engineers, in collaboration with NIOSH, have been devoting considerable effort to the evaluation of retreat mining methods used throughout the country. Retreat sequences used in West Virginia were made the subject of detailed computer simulations in 2002. Key safety related findings were presented to mine operators, State and district personnel through a series of meetings and seminars. A training CD also was developed and shared with the West Virginia mining community.

In the wake of the Quecreek accident we also have moved to identify new and safer technology. Even though the investigation into Quecreek is still in progress, it soon became clear that we needed to look into the mine maps and other ways to prevent unintentionally mining into old mine workings.

I hope that some of you attended the symposium that we held here in Charleston to gather information about techniques to verify the extent of abandoned workings. Doug Conaway worked with us in organizing the symposium.

The meeting brought forward a number of interesting developments. The symposium defined the problem and described existing methods of void detection. Abstracts of the presentations on various technological approaches are now posted on MSHA's web site. Promising technology was discussed that could prevent accidents such as Quecreek in the future. The success of this event proves that if you provide a forum for problematic situations, interested parties are willing to work together to find a solution.

Since the symposium, MSHA's technical specialists have been evaluating the information that was presented to identify the techniques that appear to have the most immediate potential for practical use. Horizontal, long-hole directional drilling is one of these. Using current technology, a drill operator can actively direct and track the location of an advancing borehole. Boreholes within coal mines can be advanced for several thousand feet.

Another technique that appears quite promising uses sensors that can be mounted on the drum of a continuous miner. Currently these sensors are used to accurately measure the location of the roof and floor. Reportedly, the sensor also can be used to detect air or water-filled voids approximately 10 feet in advance of the face cut. If such a void is detected, a warning could be issued and the miner head immediately stopped.

While 10 feet is a short distance, it may be possible for the system to be modified to detect voids at least 20 feet ahead of the cutting drum. We will be conducting tests this year to verify the reliability of this technology.

Other technology described at the conference, and now being evaluated, includes seismic techniques and near-surface geophysical methods such as electrical resistivity, ground-penetrating radar, microgravity and electromagnetic methods.

At the conference issues also were brought out concerning problems with mapping, including the practice of using reference coordinates keyed to the entrance of the mine. In the case of old mines, the reference point may have been lost, making it difficult to orient the map correctly. One recommendation that we are evaluating would be to standardize reference points for mine maps, keying them to the State plane coordinate system to ensure that standard reference points will always be available.

As you know, in the course of the Quecreek investigation a mine map was discovered in a local coal mining museum that was not found in the State of Pennsylvania mine map archives.

We are moving to improve the archiving of historic mine maps. We will shortly release a public service announcement asking members of the public who have such maps in their possession to share them with us. We will have an 800 number that members of the public who may have such maps can use to contact MSHA. We will be working closely with the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training and with other State mine agencies to fill gaps that may exist in mine map archives.

With West Virginia's long history of mining and large number of old, abandoned workings, this is a critical issue for the West Virginia mining industry. In the coming year we will continue to work closely with Doug Conaway to address the issue. This is just the beginning. We can, and will, find new answers that will ensure no more Quecreek ordeals.

10. Lastly, I would like to mention our internal safety and health improvements at MSHA. In fiscal 2002, MSHA had a goal of reducing the number of employee injury and illness claims by 20 percent. We reduced them by 22 percent, meeting the goal. This is important for two reasons. First of all, it is important to the MSHA employees and their families. Second, as I mentioned, we must also lead by example. When we ask the mining industry to reduce accidents that cause injury or illness, we have to make sure we are doing the same.

Continued implementation of the plan: 2003

The last two years were years of real progress and in 2003, our task -- yours in the industry and MSHA's -- will be to build on the momentum and successes.

We in MSHA will continue the ongoing job of evaluating ourselves and transforming our plan. Let me talk for a minute about some items for the future.

1. Continuing improvements in compliance assistance. One way to reduce both hazards and violations is through compliance assistance. As just one example District 3 identified a need and developed a training program concerning on-shift examinations, particularly to assist with meeting the requirements of ventilation plans. This program has been presented at several mines in the district, and there are plans to present it at more operations this year.

You can expect to see more updated and innovative training materials and more services added to the web site. (In fact, our web site is undergoing continued redesign based upon comments we receive from users, and you can expect to see its new, more user-friendly look very soon.) We are looking at adopting a ListServ function so that anyone can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates on topics of interest.

2. Review of inspection procedures. Nationwide in 2001 and 2002, MSHA spent more inspector-hours at coal mines than ever before in history. In the coming year, we're going to be be looking at ways to better use our time during mine to get even more value and results.

3. Task analysis. For the past several months MSHA has been working with a new type of job task analysis in conjunction with the Naval Weapons Center. The system can be used to break down the most complex jobs into their component tasks. With the full participation of all personnel involved in a job, this type of task analysis has proven highly effective in identifying deficiencies in work procedures and training so they can be corrected. Typically, the employees and immediate supervisors using this system have come up with their own solutions. We also are using the system with MSHA personnel, and expect to make improvements in their training that will help them become even more effective. You'll be hearing more about it in the future.

4. No accident is "routine." Finally, I want to set a new standard for our response to accidents, fatal, nonfatal, and near-misses. You know, in this business it is possible to become somewhat inured and to look at some accidents as especially significant while accepting others as quote-unquote "routine" accidents. That is something we should never do!

Every incident should be a hard-hitting reminder of what we need to do. Every fatality is a tragedy; every injury hurts someone; and every near miss is a warning. I have told MSHA's managers that we need to give all serious incidents our full attention, up to the highest levels of management. And we must take incidents personally. I ask you to do the same. Let's make safety a value at every level in a mine's management organization.

5. And let's recognize good performers. Let me return to the statement by Charles Schwab that I quoted earlier this morning. "I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism."

That's why we need to recognize the miners and management of the best and safest operations. We need to show them our support, as they demonstrate to everyone what sound safety and health management and determination can do. That's how we can continue the momentum.

We should all recognize the Sentinels of Safety Winners....the winners of the local and regional contests, and winners of the national mine rescue contest -- like Eastern Associated Coal Southern Appalachia Team, from Wharton, West Virginia, winners of the combination event in the 2001 National Mine Rescue and First Aid Contest.

We also should recognize the winners of the many local, regional and company safety competitions and the individual operations that improve their safety records.

We need to think of even more ways to recognize and reward progress. This afternoon, a mine in northern West Virginia is hosting an event for its 150 miners to celebrate 200 days without a lost-time accident. I also understand that on one previous occasion, when this mine met a safety goal, the safety director shaved his head. I'm not suggesting we do likewise especially in this cold weather! But taking the time to recognize good performance is just as critical as recognizing the need to improve.

Safety is a value

Don, while we haven't met before I did read a recent profile of you that impressed me because a lot of the qualities mentioned also are qualities we are working to cultivate in safety and health: honesty, preparation, discipline, patience, persistence, commitment and the sense that every one is "family." In other words, making safety a value in everything we do.

When it comes to saving lives, preventing injuries and illness, that's how it needs to be. We're all on the same team, and it's all about results, results, results.

Let's remember that the U.S. coal industry is the finest and safest in the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is looking up to us.

Countries like China and Ukraine that are struggling to improve their mine safety record are looking to us to you -- for guidance and advice. Last year alone, officials from eight foreign countries visited the National Mine Health and Safety Academy here in West Virginia to learn about the U.S. system for safety and health, and take advantage of our unparalleled training resources, and as part of their studies many of them toured West Virginia mines. You are truly setting an example for the rest of the world.

Last year we reached a new milestone in coal mine safety with a record low of 27 fatalities. This year, we will reach another milestone, the 25th anniversary of MSHA, which became part of the U.S. Department of Labor on March 9, 1978.

I congratulate today's award winners, and all of you for your role in making 2002 a banner year for mine safety. You can expect that we in MSHA will be cheering hard for top performers in the coming year. I hope that all of you will be among them.

We are looking back at 25 years of progress, but more important, we look forward to renewed progress, with zero accidents, zero injuries, and zero illness as the goal.

We need to make safety a value in everything that we do. It's good for miners and it's the right thing to do to keep this business healthy.

Thank you, Happy New Year, and God Bless America.