Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Before the National Safety Council
91st Annual Congress and Exposition
September 9, 2003
Thank you Alan, for that kind introduction. It is truly a pleasure to be with all of you again this year, and once again to share the podium with the leader of our sister agency -- OSHA Assistant Secretary John Henshaw.
The National Safety Congress is always a terrific event because it brings together safety professionals from every sector and from every region of the U.S.
For those of you who live in the Northeast or Middle West, there's a good chance many of you were affected by the electrical blackout that occurred on August 14. It's estimated to have affected 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada.
It was truly a monumental news event. Wherever we may have been on that hot afternoon, all of us will remember the ordeal of so many workers and residents in New York City -- some stuck in elevators for hours -- hiking over the Brooklyn Bridge -- in some cases, sleeping on sidewalks.
Beyond New York City the blackout also affected millions of workers. For instance:
An auto assembler in Michigan got the first hint of trouble when the lights in the plant flickered, then went out. He and his co-workers waited for 30 minutes, and then the foreman evacuated the plant. With traffic at a crawl and his cell phone not working, he worried about his 96-year-old grandmother until he got to her nursing home to make sure she was okay.
A Detroit emergency dispatcher was at the mall when all the stores plunged into darkness. Her next shift she worked in a hot room with very little light and equipment working from generator power. Most filling stations were not operating, and State troopers searched for fuel to run the patrol cars. Unable to get news from the radio, people were calling 911 to ask what stores were open and where they could get gas.
At a family pizza business in Rochester, New York, suddenly "everything went dead, quiet and dark." There was no electricity to drive the compressors and fans that kept the restaurant's food supplies cold. With heat of 90 degrees outside, the shop's gas-powered cookers kept pumping out 500-degree heat. But by quickly purchasing bags of ice from a local grocery and packing them in and around the coolers, this small business managed to get by until power returned.
Because of experiences like these, many Americans who rarely thought about such things now know that the electric power we take so much for granted comes to us over an immense, complicated and interconnected grid. And they are conscious that the smooth functioning of that grid is vital to our daily life and our economy.
Just as important, of course, is the energy source, because without energy, the grid would not function at all. In the case of the U.S. electrical grid -- and this is still something that most people do not recognize -- more than 50 percent of the electric power we use every day comes from coal. U.S. miners mine virtually all of that coal. In effect, our coal miners stand between us and having another August 14 blackout every day of the year. Our coal miners produce more than a billion tons of coal each year, and the power generated from that coal supports the jobs of auto assemblers, health care workers, store clerks, police officers, radio announcers, restaurant owners, and all the rest of us. As the President said on Labor Day, "the more productive you are, the better off our workers are. You see, it's better to operate a backhoe than it is a shovel." Today's miners are incredibly productive and we are all better off for it.
About 350,000 men and women work directly in America's mining industry -- including coal, metal and nonmetal mines. In addition to all that coal, American miners produce over 80 mineral commodities in all 50 States. Examples include sand, gravel and stone for construction and road building; phosphates for fertilizer; salt to keep our streets safe in winter; soda ash, talc, iron ore, copper, gemstones, silver, gold and many more. Our State of Nevada alone produces more gold than any nation except South Africa and Australia. Minerals are the foundation of our economy -- as they say if it can't be grown it's got to be mined -- and the bulk of our minerals are mined in the United States.
For the most part, American miners go about their job unsung and pretty much taken for granted. Last year, however, the Quecreek rescue gave the nation a look into the technical expertise and camaraderie that exist in this vital industry.
Mining as an industry has just achieved its safest two years on record.
Today, I want to tell you about the work we have done and are continuing to do in order to help make that possible and to make sure that progress continues. I believe that what we are doing may be of interest to any organization that is working to strengthen a culture of prevention in other industries and fields.
Overview and recent events, initiatives
Last year, I told you that the mining industry had just achieved its safest year on record in 2001.
I can now report that once again, the mining industry surpassed itself in 2002 and set a new all-time record safety performance.
Recently, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the legislation that created MSHA. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which set the basic framework for all that we do in the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It provided three fundamental tools for safety and health: enforcement, education and training, and technical support. Under the leadership of Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, we are making balanced use of all the tools available to us, in what we call our triangle of success.
Establishment of the 21st Century Workforce Initiative has been a hallmark of the leadership of Secretary Chao. Compliance assistance is integral to this initiative, and it is incorporated into each element of the Triangle of Success.
To achieve this, we in MSHA management have been working through a road map developed with input from our stakeholders. At the same time, we have needed to respond to emerging safety issues -- such as those raised by the Quecreek inundation. We also have targeted goals including a 15 percent reduction in fatal injury rates each year, and a 50 percent reduction in all-injury rates over 5 years.
Here's our report card:
The incidence rate of mine fatalities declined to a new low.
And the rate of nonfatal injuries declined likewise.
It also is encouraging to report that the part-year statistics available for 2003 indicate that the mining industry is on track for further reductions this year.
Mine fatalities are at 38 compared with 46 last year at this time.
The rate of fatal injuries for the first two quarters of this year is down from the first two quarters of 2002.
And the same is true of the all-injury rate across the mining industry.
A critical factor in maintaining this momentum has been internal communication. We are succeeding in making the goals and methods clear to each and every one of our employees through the U.S., and these goals have become the performance measurement for every person in MSHA.
I can tell you this because I've made sure of it. You know, I've never viewed my present job as something that can be done from a desk in Washington. And I never want our employees on the front lines to feel that the Assistant Secretary is some remote, unknown functionary who hands down directions but is out of touch with the real world.
That's why I've visited every one of our 17 district offices -- in most cases twice over the past 2 years. The same is true of our technical support and other facilities. On some of the recent visits we've focused on the agency's 25th anniversary and all of the successes in that time. We've reviewed our recent achievements and what remains to be done. I talk, listen, and answer any questions that employees may have. We are all one team -- "One MSHA." And the response has not only been gratifying -- it can be measured in what we do.
We make sure this message to employees is reinforced throughout the chain of command and other means such as the Internet.
Whenever I am travelling I also make sure to visit mines as often as possible. There's nothing like getting out into the workplaces to remind you what it's all about. When you get out into workplaces regularly, you can't get lost in concepts and abstractions. I've really appreciated the opportunities to visit these operations.
I'll observe, listen to miners and managers, and find out how things are working in practice. I've had great visits with the miners. Large and small mines, underground and surface -- every operation I've visited is different, and all of them appreciate what we are doing. The old saying, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" -- is not sounding like such a joke to these miners and mine operators today. A real sign of culture change.
Accident Prevention/Fatality Reduction Outreach
Even with the progress, we are far from relaxing and assuming that the favorable trends will continue without further intervention. We continually track safety trends throughout the mining industry in order to take action.
This summer, for instance, we saw with concern that fatalities in the coal mining sector were starting to exceed the previous year's levels. The total number of coal mining fatalities nationwide this year had risen to 21 as of July 25, compared with 16 at the same time last year. In fact, seven coal miners died in accidents during one 24-day period.
In response, we decided to declare the first anniversary of the Quecreek rescue, July 28, the first ever "National Coal Mine Safety Awareness Day." The purpose of this event was to raise the awareness level among coal miners and mine operators concerning hazards and the recent trend in mining fatalities nationwide.
As part of the effort, MSHA sent over 600 enforcement, training and technical support personnel to 1,500 active coal mines in the nation to speak directly with miners, mine operators and contractors urging them to use safe work procedures and focus on potential hazards.
The accident record gave us special concerns about maintenance and repair of mining equipment, and the use, transport, and storage of explosives. Safety information on these and other topics was tailored based on the nature of work and conditions at each mining site. At the same time, we placed information on our web site to provide advice and guidance for avoiding mining hazards.
The frequency of coal mining fatalities dropped off as the nation's coal mining industry experienced zero fatal accidents during this two-week "Coal Mine Safety Awareness Initiative," which directly reached more than 40,000 coal miners across the country. As of today, coal mining fatalities in the U.S. stand at 23 for this year compared with 22 on the same date in 2002. We continue to closely monitor the trend.
Meanwhile, we also tracked the trends in our other major mining sector, the metal and nonmetal mining industry. This is an important sector of the industry that produces metal, nonmetallic minerals, stone, sand and gravel. The largest number of these operations produce stone in various forms.
The metal and nonmetal industry has been improving on last year's safety record. For instance, the number of fatalities in metal and nonmetal mining stands at 15, compared with 24 at the same time last year. This is healthy progress -- but we don't take anything for granted.
Even as this sector has been showing improvement, we have been closely examining the overall record for trends that might indicate a need for attention.
For instance -- we found that:
Supervisors were involved in a disproportionate number of accidents in the metal and nonmetal mining industry.
About half of all victims had less than 6 months of experience in the task they were performing.
Many victims were engaged in new or uncommon tasks.
In the majority of fatal accidents, other miners were present. This suggested that fellow employees might be able to help prevent some accidents if they observe a hazard and speak out.
The trends that we identified in metal and nonmetal mining became the basis for a special outreach entitled, "Speak Out and Make A Difference." In this case, we sent our field office supervisors on mine visits to talk with thousands of supervisors and miners about ways of addressing hazards and to provide compliance assistance materials.
They encouraged supervisors to carefully consider their own safety in planning and carry out a job. They also encouraged all miners to speak out if they observe a hazard. Receiving a visit from an MSHA field office supervisor caught the attention of many mine operators and miners, who expressed their appreciation.
Compliance Assistance Within the Triangle of Success
(Graphic Triangle slide) These outreach efforts are among the many new ways that we are using compliance assistance. We have made compliance assistance an integral part of everything we do.
I believe that this Triangle of Success, and the compliance assistance approach, can be applied to safety in any organization.
If you are a manager in any type of industry, you have similar tools at your disposal. You have enforcement, through performance evaluations and other mechanisms. You have education and training, through your training department, outside trainers, or on-the-job training and mentoring. And you have technical assistance, through your own specialist staff or outside consultants. All of these can be used with compliance assistance -- in other words, you want your employees and your organization to succeed.
You want prevention, not reaction. You do maintain rigorous standards, and you give all the help you can, so that your goals can be understood, and met. We take a similar approach with compliance assistance.
Our compliance assistance efforts include partnerships with a wide range of organizations, including mining companies, labor organizations, State agencies, and others. In the strategy of prevention, partnerships are essential. It is tempting to try to provide you with a catalogue of all MSHA's partnership efforts.
Instead, let's take a few examples of MSHA's compliance assistance activities from each sector of the Triangle of Success:
First, let's look at enforcement:
Our inspectors do not limit themselves to identifying violations. Before conducting an inspection, they review the mine's previous violations and injury record. They listen to miners' concerns. They talk with management and the miners to help identify root causes for violations. In this way, both future violations and future injuries can be reduced. Meanwhile, enforcement is in no way diminished. Inspections continue to be completed at the highest rate in many years.
At the same time, we are not playing a game of "gotcha" -- we want the mining community to succeed in its safety and health efforts. The result: serious violations are decreasing, along with serious injuries.
For the first time, MSHA has publicly released the guidelines we use in setting the civil penalties for the most serious violations. This is a matter of basic fairness and transparency -- letting people know the rules to which they are subject. Most of our penalties are set according to a published formula, but until now, "special assessments" outside the formula were set under guidelines that were held within MSHA. Now those guidelines are posted on our web site.
Education and training:
Next, let's examine education and training:
MSHA has increased the outreach seminars we hold at the local level. For instance -- one of our toughest audiences to reach with the safety message consists of crushed stone, sand and gravel operations. These operations are widely dispersed in every State. They are mostly small to medium in size, they are often seasonal, some of them even consist of mobile plants.
This is a large sector of the industry. There are significant safety concerns at these operations ranging from machine guarding to high voltage electricity, haulage to heat stress. Employee turnover can be high, which increases the need for training. This year we started holding what we call "Spring Thaw Workshops" around the country in partnership with the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. Coming just before the start of the high-production season, and incorporating talks from fellow mine operators as well as MSHA specialists, these seminars were so popular that we are planning an expanded series next year.
One of our most exciting projects is a process to improve job training. The process is an adaptation of a successful U.S. Navy program that uses enhanced Job Task analysis (JTA) to develop more effective and efficient training programs. MSHA, the mining industry, equipment manufacturers, and the U.S. Navy jointly adapted the process for the mining industry. Mines that have used it indicate that it produced the most thorough and practical approach to improving production, maintenance, and safety. MSHA also is using the new process to improve training for our own mine inspectors.
There are two key elements to Job Task Analysis. One is the use of computer graphics that make the analysis very visual and easy to grasp and enhances group participation. The workshop team can see the analyses of tasks and subtasks being built on-screen and can discuss them and make instant changes. This would not have been possible in the past.
The second key element is the human element. It brings in all of the individuals who are involved with a task to conduct the analysis as a group. It is absolutely the opposite of a top-down approach. The group includes all those at the operation who are currently performing the job, others who directly interact with these employees as they perform the task, the supervisor, and in some cases others such as manufacturers and suppliers. The process takes about a day. It ends with a complete task breakdown, a ranking of tasks by importance, and an outline of the training required.
MSHA training specialists have conducted 12 of these Job Task Analysis workshops for industry, including the first such workshop to be conducted in Spanish. Once the process was set out for them, every group has worked intuitively with this software tool and has completed their task eagerly and with minimal guidance.
Because of employee involvement, they have ownership of the final product. The results are exactly tailored to the mining operation. We also have heard anecdotes that labor-management problems decreased in some cases. After one workshop, a truck driver tooted his horn before putting the truck in gear, and the mine manager commented to the MSHA trainer, "I've never known the guy to do that before he participated in the workshop!"
To help make this compliance assistance available to everyone, we've placed an interactive Job Task Analysis page on MSHA's web site.
The key is that this process is directly involves employees, rather than being imposed from the top down or created by outside experts. We believe this technique could have applicability in a wide range of industries.
Finally, in the triangle is the component of technical assistance:
MSHA provides technical assistance to individual mines and groups of mines that may have particular safety and health concerns. For instance, MSHA engineers have recently used computer modeling and remote sensing to help evaluate roof control plans at several mines in southeastern Kentucky. We are actively working with a group of granite mines in Georgia on the control of noise exposures.
We also have a role in technical innovation. In a first this year, a mine fire was extinguished with the help of a jet engine. No one was injured in this fire, at an underground coal mine in West Virginia -- the mine's required emergency plan worked and everyone evacuated safety. But the fire was out of control. MSHA provided technical assistance as the mine operator worked to control the fire. A special jet engine was imported from Australia -- with some difficulties due to security restrictions, as you may imagine. The engine was placed at the mine portal, and the exhausting gases helped to render the mine atmosphere inert. Today the mine is close to resuming full production.
We're working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to test production prototype models of a personal continuous dust monitor for use in coal mines. If successful -- and it looks very promising -- this device will be able to give an immediate readout of a miner's current and extrapolated exposure to respirable coal mine dust that can cause black lung. It would be a huge quantum leap from the present method of taking full-shift samples and sending them to a laboratory for analysis with results received weeks later. Miners and mine operators will have greater assurance that exposure is controlled below the applicable standard.
Since the Quecreek inundation, we've been encouraging the development of technology to help identify abandoned mine workings and find their limits. For instance, we've worked with Carnegie-Mellon University to test a robot adapted to explore abandoned mines and record data relative the where the mineral has been mined.
Small Mines Office
I've now said something about each section of the Triangle for Success, and I'd like to add some comments specifically about small mines. As we all know, small businesses are in a different situation than large companies. Large companies tend to be aware of safety as a value -- to the employees, to the company's reputation and to the bottom line. A large company is likely to have an in-house safety department, a management plan, and resources dedicated specifically to safety and health.
The mining industry is characterized by a wide range in mine sizes -- from mines with one or two employees to mines with more than 1,000. Small mines in this country have long experienced fatality rates above the national average. Yet they are not an easy audience to reach. Many of them operate intermittently. Some have only one or two people working at any time. The mine may be run as a sideline to another business such as agriculture. The operators may not belong to any industry associations. Many do not have computers and cannot go to our web site for help. In some cases, they are not even aware that they are covered by any health and safety requirements.
This year MSHA established a Small Mines Office to address the specialized needs of nearly 7,000 small mines. MSHA defines small mines as any surface or underground operation with five or fewer employees.
This office has 19 employees currently "on loan" from other portions of MSHA, but if the President's proposal in the FY 2004 budget is approved, it will soon become a formal and permanent entity.
To date the staff of the Small Mines Office has personally visited more than 1,200 small operations. They have distributed our "Starter Kit," containing all the requirements a small mine operator needs to know in a convenient, easy-to-use format. They offer small mine operators simplified fill-in-the-blank model forms to help them develop training plans and meet other paperwork requirements.
And, they are just getting started. Our plans call for continuing contacts, for the development of additional training materials, and for finding other ways to address their specialized needs.
Already, the results have been, in the words of one of our specialists, "heartwarming." When an MSHA specialist calls to make an appointment at one small mine, and ends up with other mine operators asking to join in, that's evidence of success. When the MSHA office receives calls asking, "Can I have a copy of that notebook you guys are giving out?" that's evidence of success. When we get letters of thanks, that's evidence of success.
And there's one more thing. I hesitate to say it, because the year isn't over, and it may be too early to declare that it is statistically significant. But until August 30 of this year, we did not see one fatality at a small mine with five or fewer employees. That compares with five such fatalities last year at the same date.
So far, all indications are that this class of very small businesses is eager for assistance and benefiting from the attention of an organization specifically dedicated to their safety and health needs.
While some of our small mines are unable to take advantage of information technology, elsewhere we are using this technology to leverage our communications wherever possible. Mine operators who do have e-mail now get safety alerts by e-mail from our district offices. We have an improved ListServ on our web site where readers can sign up for alerts whenever certain types of documents are posted. Mine operators will be able to file more forms electronically in the coming year. Increasingly, we are moving to interactive training programs, Web-based or on DVD.
The web site, and increasingly more training materials, are available in Spanish. New rules, public comments and public hearing transcripts are now posted on MSHA's web site for stakeholder review. Last week we used a Webcast format to get feedback from stakeholders on the coal mine safety outreach program that I described earlier.
Some years ago, I'm told, a consultant working with the agency commented with surprise that the mining industry was one of the most segmented he had ever seen. In other words -- as mining people have always known -- hardly any two mines are alike. Miners deal with geology that varies greatly from place to place. There is variety in mining methods according to the mineral being mined, the specific geologic conditions encountered, and other factors. Moreover, any given mine changes from day to day and sometimes from moment to moment, as the geologic conditions change. If there was ever an industry in which one size fits all, the mining industry is not that industry.
Information technology is proving to be a great boon because it has the efficiency of mass communication, yet allows the message to be tailored to a wide variety of recipients. We take advantage of its efficiency, and it is even more powerful when paired with face-to-face communication at the mine sites. Every teacher knows that students learn best when they receive the lesson through more than one channel. In the same way, MSHA combines e-communications with face-to-face visits and compliance assistance to make sure the message will get through.
Another powerful tool we have begun to use this year consists of Alliance Agreements. By pairing with mining and related safety and health organizations, we can leverage our resources.
Because of differences in our industries and our legislation, MSHA's Alliance Agreements take a somewhat different approach than OSHA's. But they have a similar purpose, to create a partnership that will result in better protection for employees' safety and health.
The first agreement we signed this year was with the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. This agreement has already resulted in development of:
Specific, shared goals for accident reduction;
A voluntary safety pledge for association members; and
An analysis of injuries in this segment of the industry that we are sharing with all stakeholders.
Implementing committees are now at work on our more recent Alliance Agreements, with the Industrial Minerals Association--North America, and with the American Society of Safety Engineers.
I'm very pleased, therefore, that at the close of this session, MSHA will be signing its latest Alliance Agreement, with the National Safety Council.
Under the new agreement, MSHA and the National Safety Council recognize the value of working collaboratively on health and safety programs. This pooling of resources will result in a more focused relationship, with the objective of developing safety and health programs for the mining industry.
MSHA and NSC will work cooperatively through the Alliance to:
Develop and distribute information through print and electronic media.
Collaborate on developing and conducting technical sessions for conferences.
Evaluate the NSC Mining and Minerals Resources Industry Section and identify ways to enhance participation.
Work collaboratively to present clear and accurate statistical information on mining and minerals operations in the United States.
Identify existing NSC programs that can be used as part of MSHA's compliance specialists' training.
Further, through outreach efforts, this Alliance will educate the public, particularly children, about the dangers of exploring active and abandoned mines. The groups will expand our existing relationship in the "Stay Out-Stay Alive" Project.
The "Stay Out--Stay Alive" program reaches out to educate young people and their parents about the hazards of treating active or inactive mines sites as if they were playgrounds, a problem that causes many accidents each year. MSHA acted as the catalyst in starting this national partnership, which has grown to about 90 organizations. This is a long-term effort to change the prevalent notion that it's cool to explore old mine tunnels, swim in abandoned quarries, and ride ATV's on mine roads -- a notion that's claimed 30 or more lives a year in recent history. Our Alliance Agreement will raise the profile on this issue another notch.
Making MSHA a better-managed agency
Before concluding, I should say something about our work to make MSHA a better-managed agency. In this, we are:
Setting an example:
Getting more results from our resources; and
Creating a culture of prevention.
Some of our changes in this regard include a nationwide mentoring program for new inspectors and supervisors, revisions in the agency's inspection manual, additional training for enforcement personnel, and increased management oversight.
Input for these changes has come from stakeholders, from reviews of accidents, and from MSHA's managers and employees. Where once the organization was compartmentalized, today we are "one MSHA" with many compliance assistance projects cutting across agency lines. Headquarters managers make it a point stay in touch with front-line supervisors and employees and to keep communications flowing in both directions. We continue to listen to our stakeholders, and to monitor on a daily basis the progress towards agency goals. This process helps us to identify emerging concerns and take actions early, as I have described.
In closing, I'd like to mention our international activities. The Department of Labor, the Chinese government and the National Safety Council are working together in a cooperative project to share mine safety and health information with China's State Administration of Work Safety. Many of those from China who are involved in this project are with us today. Please welcome them to this great event and this great country.
In addition to the work with China, in the past year we're very pleased that 65 international delegates visited MSHA's National Mine Health and Safety Academy, where we train our inspectors and where mine safety and health training is available to the whole mining industry.
We have hosted international contests for mine rescue teams from the U.S. and abroad to test their skills in a mock mine emergency. We're hoping to have such international contests held in both Europe and Asia during the next few years.
Moreover, we've been working for more than a year with the National Safety Council in the preparations for the World Safety Congress in 2005. We're especially pleased with one of the themes for the International Congress; "Prevention is a Value in a Globalized World." This puts into one theme two messages that we've been emphasizing at MSHA in the past two years:
Safety is a value. It is a value to miners and their families, the company's reputation, and the bottom line.
A culture of prevention. Everyone's actions will reinforce safety when prevention is part of the culture.
With continued vigilance, thoughtful communication, and partnership, we are moving measurably closer to our ultimate goal: to have every miner go home safe and healthy at the end of every shift, and at the end of his or her career.
See Press Release