Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Before the Coal Operators & Associates Dinner Meeting
April 17, 2003
Thank you, David. It's truly a pleasure to be able to join you this evening.
We in the Mine Safety and Health Administration greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss safety and health with all of you, including Chairman of the Board Charles Baird, Vice-Chairman Linton Griffith, Manager of Health and Safety Joe Jacobs, and all of you who are in attendance this evening.
We appreciate the commitment of this organization and of all of you to the health and safety of Kentucky coal miners. We look forward to this opportunity to strengthen our partnership as we work together to reach the next level of performance in safety and health.
II. Making History
I'd also like to specially thank Jim Booth and Mine Manager Bruce Short for our tour of the Coalburg Enterprises No. 4 Mine near Inez today. As a safety professional and manager with 30 years of experience in the coal industry, I know there is no substitute for first-hand knowledge, and I'm always eager to meet and talk with mine operators and miners in their workplace about safety and health.
But there is no mining inside the Capitol Beltway.
In Kentucky, coal mining is obviously a critical industry, with more than 18,000 coal miners. In Washington, the largest private-sector employer, reportedly, is the lobbying industry, which has more than 67,000 employees according to one study.
Of course, it may be more by now - that study was done in 1996!
So Washington is important, the only way to stay on track in this job is to stay connected with the mines and with mining people.
Washington, of course, is also a place where history has been made. But places like Pikeville are where history is made in mine safety and health. And you are among the people who make that history.
For example: in the past two years, the overall U.S. mining industry made history by achieving its safest two years on record. And last year, the coal mining industry had its safest year ever.
You are among those responsible for that historic achievement. You can be - and I hope you are - proud of your role in mining history.
Our ultimate 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 as we reach for the next step to zero.
Specific performance goals are always important to make sure a program stays on track. MSHA has adopted specific performance goals to reduce the fatal injury incidence rate by 15% per year and to reduce the all-injury incidence rate 50% below the FY 2000 baseline by the end of FY 2005.
We also have three additional health-related performance goals for coal dust, silica dust and noise.
MSHA recently entered a new phase. We are working, step by step, through a detailed plan that has brought a new vision for MSHA to life.
Before developing a plan, we knew there was only way it could work - it had to have the support of our stakeholders and our MSHA employees.
We also knew that to make progress, we need to increase the results from every hour of our time and every dollar of resources that we invest in miner safety and health. And to accomplish that, we needed to look at the way we use those resources with the goal of making MSHA a better managed agency.
We used input from both our stakeholders and employees throughout the Nation as we developed a plan to accomplish this. Today, we are executing the plan.
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.
In the broadest terms, the President has called for all Federal agencies to become:
- Citizen centered, not bureaucracy-centered;
- Results oriented; and
- Market-based, promoting innovation through competition
It also provides objectives covering internal management issues. MSHA needs to set an example to stakeholders. Accordingly, we set goals to reduce MSHA own rate of employee injuries and compensation costs. If we are asking industry to do something, we in MSHA need to be willing to do the same things in our own organization.
Under the Mine Act, MSHA's mission is to prevent death, injury and illness. In carrying out that responsibility we should serve as a catalyst for continual improvement in safety and health performance. The control is in your hands, as it should be. We can influence, we can coach and encourage, but we do not control.
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've recognized that MSHA needs all the tools provided in the law to move ahead.
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, equal in importance, and which form our "Triangle of Success."
As I have said many times -- 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. The Triangle of Success has guided every step of our plan for MSHA.
That plan calls for us to break barriers that have existed and form new partnerships to reach our common goals.
IV. Our Plan In Action: The New 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 also has set specific objectives for each workplace - that it is safe, healthy and fair. She is very involved and supportive of mine safety and health.
In 2002, you should have seen, and from my conversations throughout the mining industry I believe most of you have now seen -- significant changes in the way we do business in MSHA. Stakeholders in Kentucky and elsewhere have given us positive feedback on the "New MSHA. "
We have strengthened compliance assistance and made it integral to every element in the Triangle of Success: enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance.
We developed a Compliance Assistance Plan, which outlines significant increases in compliance assistance and establishes specific time frames for accomplishing each initiative in the plan. We have incorporated compliance assistance into all our interactions. We established the concept that compliance assistance is an integral part of everything we do.
We have strengthened information outreach. We added to the usable data on our Web page --- for instance, we added the standards responsible for the most frequent citations along with safety tips and best practices. More mine operators and contractors are using electronic filing through MSHA's Web page. In addition, MSHA's data retrieval system is one of the most frequently visited.
We are now providing links on MSHA's web site to mining companies that are willing to share their safety material and best practices. This is a great opportunity for award-winning mines and others with exemplary safety records to share their techniques for success with others.
We are revising and updating all our training materials -- using new technology like DVD and Web-based interactive training. Materials on MSHA's web page are now available in Spanish -- and we are translating our training materials into Spanish. Moreover, MSHA is providing instruction in special outreach seminars and as part of refresher training here in eastern Kentucky and across the nation.
Mine operators and miners should be seeing MSHA's changed approach in every interaction.
--Talking with every mine employee encountered during an inspection, to discuss hazard recognition, safe work practices, accident prevention and current problematic trends.
--Reviewing previous injuries and fatalities that are meaningful to the individuals being visited.
--Listening to what the miners and operators have to say relative to accident prevention, to include any concerns they may have about the safety process at their mine.
To make compliance assistance a part of every inspection:
-MSHA personnel analyze and use incidence rate and violation history data to identify trends being experienced at each mine property. They share the findings during pre-inspection conferences to serve as a guide and road map during the inspection process.
--Special focus is given on hazard recognition and work practices throughout each work area visited.
-In conducting compliance assistance activities during each mine visit, inspection personnel place emphasis on current issues responsible for accidents and fatalities.
-Specialists do simple root cause analyses on compliance problems and share them with all mine employees.
--When needed, technical assistance is made available to help solve compliance problems.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
One mine in Eastern Kentucky had an increasing rate of nonfatal, lost-days injuries. The mine operator asked for compliance assistance in developing a hazard reduction program. MSHA provided trend analysis and other assistance. The mine reported no lost time injuries in the first quarter of 2003.
As another example, at several mines in southeastern Kentucky where the coal seam is subject to bumps, MSHA engineers have recently used computer modeling and remote sensing to help evaluate changes in roof control plans.
We have received appreciative feedback from mine operators on these compliance assistance efforts here in Kentucky and elsewhere.
V. Major Initiatives
As part of its plan, MSHA has entered into several major new initiatives. I would like to say a few words about four of these, which I believe are of interest to you: First, the Tri-State Initiative; second, the new Small Mines Safety and Health Office; third, the proposed rule on dust sampling and plan verification; and finally, our first Alliance Agreement.
The Tri-State Initiative was formed this year in a special effort to focus on coal mine safety in three States: Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. This area has the largest number of coal mines and miners nationwide. It makes sense to focus on this area in a way that cuts across traditional boundaries, by ensuring that we make the maximum use of resources and avoid duplication.
The Tri-State Initiative Group draws from MSHA resources at the Mine Health and Safety Academy, the districts in the Tri-State area, Technical Support, Educational Field Services and the newly formed Small Mines group (about which I'll have more to say later).
Tri-State group's task is to support the Agency's overarching goals in fatal and injury rate reductions and reducing miner exposures to excessive levels of respirable dust and noise. This is just the beginning.
One early focus of the Tri-State groups is surface truck haulage. Last year there were more than 130 reported incidents involving truck haulage in the three States. The Tri-State group has developed materials and is working with the district to conduct outreach visits to mines, talk to miners and distribute the safety information.
We have also established a small mines safety and health office.
We started this new office last year with staff borrowed from various branches of MSHA.
The new office will address the specialized needs of the approximately 6,500 small mines around the country with 5 or fewer employees, including about 120 small mines in Kentucky.
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.
Demonstrate that an investment in safety and health is good business.
Help small mines to develop and maintain an effective safety and health program to fit their company's needs.
Maintain regular contact with small mine owners by telephone, email, fax, letters and follow-up visits.
Make small mine owners aware of other sources of assistance and help them use these resources.
The small mine office also is moving to:
Develop partnerships with small mine stakeholder organizations and jointly sponsor seminars and workshops highlighting the value of effective safety and health programs.
Develop training materials and information resources on the Web tailored to small mine operations;
Identify regulations that create an undue burden on small mine operators and develop alternate ways to provide the same level of protection; and
Provide the framework to effectively and efficiently manage the compliance assistance efforts of MSHA aimed at helping small mine operators.
Staff in the Small Mines Safety and Health Office have already visited more than 440 small mines around the country. Among other activities, they are distributing a starter kit that contains information for obtaining compliance assistance and training, as well as information on basic regulations. We have received a number of positive comments from mine operators who have told us that it simplifies their safety, health and compliance tasks.
The President's proposed FY 2004 budget will establish the Small Mines Safety and Health Office as a formal and lasting entity. For FY 2004, President Bush has requested $2.4 million and 21 positions for the office.
A third initiative that I know is of interest to you concerns coal mine dust control. As you know, dust controls have reduced the incidence of black lung disease sharply since 1970. Nevertheless, black lung still costs this country approximately $900,000 annually, and we continue to see some new cases among working coal miners. Meanwhile, mine operators are required to collect samples to determine compliance with dust standards six times annually. MSHA specialists take more compliance samples. To determine if a mine is in compliance, moreover, the MSHA specialists may have to return for several shifts.
Last month we issued a proposed rule and reopened the comment period on a second rule that are intended to improve the dust program: first, to provide greater certainty of miners' health being protected; second, to place the responsibility for compliance sampling on MSHA; and third, reflecting current scientific knowledge, to make it possible for MSHA to determine noncompliance - or compliance -- based on one sample.
You probably recall that a proposed rule was issued some two years ago to require underground coal mine operators to verify the adequacy of dust control plans. However, no final action was taken on the rule at the end of the last Administration.
We have now proposed a slightly different version of this rule. We made some modifications based upon comments received on that original proposal.
In addition, the new proposal allows for new technology including the development and approval of personal, continuous dust monitors, which are currently in the research stage, so that they can be adopted once they become available.
Under the proposal mine operators would no longer be required to take bimonthly samples for compliance purposes - compliance sampling would be MSHA's responsibility. Moreover, under the so-called "single sample" rule, which has been reopened for additional comments, MSHA would be able to accurately determine compliance or noncompliance in just one shift.
We hope that you will review these proposals and will comment if you wish. In addition, we are holding public hearings on the proposals, one of which will be in Lexington on May 15. We encourage all stakeholders to participate and look forward to hearing your views.
A fourth initiative that I would like to mention is that 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.
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 anticipate a second such agreement to be signed within the next few weeks - and we hope this will be only the first of many such agreements.
If Coal Operators & Associates would be interested in discussing an Alliance Agreement also, we would be very happy to work with you.
VI. 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 coal 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. We need to remember that, and look for more opportunities to recognize our success in mine safety, in all mining sectors.
We have also learned from internal management reviews of the agency's activities following two severe incidents -- the Martin County coal slurry spill that occurred in October 2000, and the Jim Walter Mine explosion in 2001. These incidents provided lessons that we are applying throughout MSHA. The purpose of the internal reviews was to conduct a critical self-examination to determine how MSHA management practices could be improved. We have been very open about the fact that weaknesses were uncovered and have shared the results widely. As a result MSHA is making important improvements in its management process, including:
- 1. A nationwide mentoring program for new inspectors and supervisors;
2. Revisions in the agency's inspection manual;
3. Additional training for enforcement personnel on appropriate levels of enforcement; and
4. Increased management oversight at the district and national levels.
Now let's turn to the bottom line: results.
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.
In the past two years, we have seen the results of our plan for MSHA. The American mining industry has just achieved its two safest years on record. After several years of relative stagnation, the number of mine fatalities dropped to a new low record of 72 in 2001 and then to 67 last year.
That means we sent 18 more miners home safely to their families in a safe and healthy condition over the past two years. Or looking back over MSHA's 25 years of existence, we sent 175 more miners home safe last year than 25 years ago.
Comparing the two-year period of 1999-2000 to the two-year period of 2001-2002, the rate of fatal injuries at coal mines declined by 31 percent. The total rate of injuries at coal mines fell by 9 percent.
Looking at the entire mining industry, coal and metal/nonmetal, the fatal-injury rate is down 15 percent, and rate of all injuries declined by 11 percent.
MSHA's inspection completion rate is higher than at any time in the recent past, and we are spending more time at each mine, with results.
I would like to mention another achievement, 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. This is important for two reasons. First of all, it is important to the MSHA employees and their families. Second, 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.
Kentucky has shared in the historic progress of the coal industry. In 1978, Kentucky coal mines had 25 fatalities and a fatal-injury rate of 0.068. Last year, the Kentucky coal industry had 6 fatal injuries, and a rate of 0.033 - less than half the rate of fatal injuries as of 25 years ago.
Moreover, the best Kentucky mines set an example for all mining operations. For instance, several Eastern Kentucky mines received recognition from the Holmes Safety Association last October.
Keep up your good work! By keeping up the momentum we can look forward to even more examples of outstanding safety performance performance.
XIII. 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 provides $260 million plus $13 million for special projects--$10 million for research on old mine workings and digitizing maps, and $3 million for impoundment research.
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 for metal and nonmetal mine safety and health specialists as well as 35 positions for coal mine safety and health specialists. It also requests $2.4 million and 21 positions for the Office of Small Mines Safety and Health, as I mentioned, within the Educational Policy and Development program.
2. Continuous improvement philosophy. You can expect to see continuing emphasis on compliance assistance, including 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. MSHA has some of the finest mine safety and health professionals in the world, and we are encouraging all MSHA personnel to continue their professional development on an ongoing basis.
5. 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.
IX. A Culture of Prevention
There is a key phrase in our first Alliance Agreement 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.
We need to learn from our safest mines and from incidents like the rescue of the nine miners at Quecreek.
The exemplars of mine safety and health have shown what can be done with teamwork, commitment, determination - to achieve our common goal - to send every miner home safe and healthy at the end of every working day.
Thank you, and God Bless America.