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"What Does the Future Hold for Mine Safety and Health?"
Remarks by Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Before the Southeastern Missouri Mine Safety Association
Annual State Awards Banquet
Park Hills, Missouri
March 20, 2003


Introduction and acknowledgements

It's a real pleasure to be with you this evening. I would like to thank Art Albert for the invitation to be with you. With a cross section of the mining industry present this evening -- including CEO's and managers, miners, State and MSHA personnel, and even a few family members -- the Southeast Missouri Mine Safety Association stands as a fine example of true partnership for mine safety and health.

I understand that in addition, the Southeastern Missouri Mine Safety Association has just become a district council of the Holmes Safety Association. Congratulations and on joining this historic, national, voluntary network of those concerned with the safety and health of miners. We in MSHA look forward to participating with you as fellow members of the HSA.

I would also like to express special thanks to the officials of Mississippi Lime. It was a great pleasure this morning to visit their operation, which has accumulated an impressive record of injury-free working hours, and to talk with employees. Both management and miners have made safety a value and have created an example for others.

It's great to see Steve Dunn also. As Director for Mine and Cave Safety in the Missouri Division of Labor Standards he and his staff have been terrific partners to MSHA. I'm pleased to say that we've recently finalized MSHA's Fiscal Year 2003 state grant in Missouri, which will amount to $193,758 and will assist Steve's division in providing essential safety and health training for miners throughout the State.

Thanks also, to Annette Johnson, of Unimin, SEMMSA secretary, who has been very helpful coordinating with my staff. It's a pleasure to work with you, Annette.

Everyone knows that Missouri is proud to be called the "Show Me" state. I understand that there are several stories about that nickname.

My favorite is the one that attributes it to Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who is quoted as saying: ". . . frothy eloquence neither convinces or satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

And that is highly appropriate to us and to what we do in safety and health. Words and ideas about how to achieve a safe and healthful mining industry are essential, but what counts is putting our ideas into practice. It's all about results.

And results are what I want to discuss tonight - the results we have achieved and the results we aim for in the future.

The safety record

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

Let me ask for a show of hands - how many people here this evening were part of the mining industry back in 1978?

In that case, you remember as I do, when MSHA was created in the Department of Labor. For the first time, safety and health in the metal and nonmetal mining industry and the coal mining industry were joined under one legislative roof.

Since then, mining fatalities in this country have declined from 242 in 1978 to the record low of 67 last year, a decrease of 72 percent.

Metal and nonmetal mining fatalities declined from 136 in 1978 to 40 last year, a decrease of 71 percent - and the rate of fatal injuries in metal and nonmetal mining dropped by 59 percent (from .051 to .021).

Coal mining fatalities are down from 106 in 1978 to 27 last year, a decrease of 75 percent. The rate of fatal injuries in coal mining declined by 49 percent (from .053 to .027). And by the way, coal production in the same period increased by more than 40 percent (from 632 million tons in 1978 to 1.128 billion tons in 2001).

The American mining industry has just achieved its two safest years on record. After several years of relative stagnation, in 2001 the number of mine fatalities dropped to a new low record of 67 last year.

Injuries also are on the decline. The rate of reported mining injuries has declined from 5.13 per 200,000 employee-hours in the year 2000 to 4.75 in 2001 - and preliminary figures indicate, to 4.56 last year.

Comparing the two-year period of 1999-2000 to the two-year period of 2001-2002, mining fatalities declined 21 percent, and non-fatal lost-day injuries at all mines declined 13 percent.

That is results!

Our vision, of course, is zero fatalities and zero injuries. No other goal is acceptable. And the mining industry clearly is headed in the right direction. You should be proud. And I know you are as determined as we are in MSHA, to keep up the momentum.

Missouri's mining industry is unique, with more than 380 mines and more than 6,000 miners. At present almost all Missouri mines are metal and nonmetal operations, and the largest number, more than 200, produce crushed and broken stone. Construction sand and gravel account for another 100 mines. But the underground lead/zinc industry remains characteristic of the State, and dimension stone, clay, cement and other industries fill important niches. At present the State's two coal mines employ fewer than 20 people. More than 150 Missouri mines have 5 or fewer employees -- in other words, some 40 percent of all mines in the State are in the category of small operations.

Missouri's two coal mines had a very good safety record last year, no reported injuries in 2002.

When we turn to the safety record of Missouri's metal and nonmetal mines, we have to face the fact that the fatality record last year could have been better.

After being free of fatal accidents in 2000 and 2001, the number of fatal injuries in the State increased last year to 3.

So should the recent fatality record concern us? Yes. Should we be discouraged? Absolutely not. We know that it is possible to do better. Of one thing I am certain: with your active participation, we can continue to send more miners home to their families than we ever have.

So far this year there have been no fatal injuries in the Missouri mining industry, and there is every reason to believe that the State can again achieve a fatality-free record in 2003.

Also in the picture should be Missouri's leaders in mine safety and health, including the outstanding operations that are being honored this evening. All of these Missouri mines have worked for a full year without a lost-time injury and stand as true examples that can lead other mines across this country on the road to still greater improvements in health and safety performance.

MSHA's recent achievements:

MSHA recently entered a new phase. In the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Congress incorporated several tools for the agency to use in order to influence safety and health in the industry. However, for most of the years since 1978, MSHA concentrated on one of those tools: enforcement. In the 1990's, however, safety progress slowed. As a result, in the past two years, we have recognized that MSHA needs all the tools provided in the law to move ahead.

In 2002, you should have seen, and from my conversations throughout the mining industry I believe most have you have now seen -- significant changes in the way we do business in MSHA.

We have made these changes with the full support of Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao who takes a personal interest in the health and safety of miners and of all American workers.

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. She is very involved and supportive of mine safety and health.

A critical element in MSHA's management plans has been and will continue to be a balanced approach to how we do our job that consists of enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance -- three elements, which should be equal in importance and which form our "Triangle of Success." As I have said over and over -- that does not mean less enforcement. It means a balanced emphasis on enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance, all three of which are tools that the law gives us to carry out the mission of the Mine Act.

In carrying out that mission, MSHA should be there to serve as a catalyst for continual improvement. The control is in your hands, as it should be. What we can do is exert influence. We can coach and encourage. We do not control.

With that mission in mind, we have been methodically working through a management plan that we developed with input from you and other stakeholders. To mention only some highlights:

We strengthened our emphasis on compliance assistance throughout the agency. We have strengthened information outreach. We signed the first Alliance agreement in the mining industry.

In a significant milestone last month, MSHA and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association signed an innovative and far-reaching agreement to promote the health and safety of miners in the stone, sand and gravel industries. For the next two years, the agreement will use our collective expertise to help foster a culture of prevention by sharing best practices and technical knowledge.

For the first time MSHA and an industry association have jointly agreed to cooperate in achieving common mine safety and health performance goals with objective performance metrics. This is precedent-setting.

We also plan to place special emphasis on cooperatively working with state aggregate associations in helping them improve the health and safety working conditions for their members' employees.

I am especially pleased and proud that we have reached this agreement because it is the first of its kind in the mining industry. We hope this will be only the first of many such agreements.

We established a small mines safety and health office.

We started this new office last year with staff borrowed from various branches of MSHA. Many of you probably know Kevin Burns, who was selected to direct this effort. The President's proposed FY 2004 budget will establish it as a formal and lasting entity.

The new office will address the specialized needs of the approximately 6,500 small mines around the country.

For the last several years, the fatal injury incidence rate at small mining operations has been more than double the rate for larger mines. If we are going to move forward in this industry, we have to enlist these small mines. Accordingly, we will provide assistance to help small mine operators improve their safety and health efforts and embrace safety and health as a value.

The Small Mines Safety and Health Office provides on-site compliance assistance to small mine operators throughout the country in the several ways. The small mine office also is moving to: Learning from incidents

In 2002 we had the rescue of nine miners from the flooded Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania, an event that focused the attention and recognition of the whole nation, and indeed the whole world, for all that is best in the American mining industry. As a result of this incident, we have focused on ways to better identify the location of old workings that can create a hazard for miners. We held a technical symposium that identified some promising new technologies that are being further explored. Quecreek also provided an experience of success like no other. American miners became heroes. We need to remember that, and look for more opportunities to recognize our success in mine safety, in all mining sectors.

We took steps to make MSHA a better-managed agency. The New MSHA

Mine operators and miners should be seeing MSHA's changed approach in every interaction To make compliance assistance a part of every inspection: Mine operators in Missouri have told us that they really appreciate visits to assist them with compliance, including such visits by MSHA supervisors.

MSHA also has an excellent working relationship with the States of Missouri. Through funds provided by the State grant program, Steve Dunn and his staff use these resources to provide critical safety and health training for Missouri miners, including Part 48 training Part 46 training, first aid and mine rescue training; we also work together on mine rescue contests. Missouri miners are equipped to work safely, and emergency preparedness is enhanced as a result of our cooperation.

Looking ahead

Let me mention some items for the future that may be of particular interest to you.

1. MSHA's budget. MSHA's budget for FY 2003 provided more personnel to give attention to the growing metal and nonmetal mine sector. The Omnibus bill provides additional funds as well -- $10 million for research on old mine workings and digitizing maps, $3 million for impoundment research, and $6.5 million for the coal program.

For FY 2004, President Bush has requested an increase of $12.5 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. In a tight budget year, that's a signal of the importance placed on the well-being of American miners. The proposed 2004 budget would add 20 more positions focused on metal and nonmetal mining and 35 for coal mine safety and health. It also requests $2.4 million and 21 positions for the Office of Small Mines Safety and Health, which I have described, within the Educational Policy and Development program.

2. Continuing improvements in compliance assistance. For instance, you can expect to see more updated and innovative training materials and more services added to the web site. Our web site is undergoing continued redesign based upon comments we receive from users. We are also looking at adopting a ListServ function so that anyone can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates on topics of interest.

3. Review of inspection procedures. We're looking at ways to efficiently use our time during mine visits to get even more value and results. We want to focus our efforts at mines or areas of mines where we can effect the best return on our investment.

4. Improved training for MSHA personnel. Wrapup: A culture of prevention

There is a key phrase in the agreement that MSHA recently signed with the NSSGA that says, "We need a culture of prevention."

We need to make safety a value -- a central thing, a part of us, deeply held, like our patriotism, like our caring for our families, like the value we put on a day's work for a day's pay.

We need to maintain the attitude that no incident is "routine" -- every incident, whether or not it results in a serious injury -- is a message from which we can learn.

Moreover, we need to learn from success, not just from our failures -- our successes like the Sentinels of Safety winners we honor every year, or the rescue of the nine miners from the Quecreek Mine.

Here in the "Show Me" State and elsewhere, the exemplars of mine safety and health have shown what can be done with teamwork, commitment, determination -- to achieve our goal -- to send every miner home safe and healthy at the end of every working day.

Congratulations to this evening's award winners, and to all of you -- keep up the good work.! The momentum is truly behind us. Let's build on it.

Thank you.