National Mine Health and Safety Academy
Beaver, West Virginia
December 18, 2003
It's an honor and a privilege to address all of you who are graduating today from the Mine Health and Safety Academy.
This is the first time that I've addressed groups representing both Coal and Metal/Nonmetal at the same time.
I hope each of you realizes that you are graduating from one of the premier federal educational facilities in the country.
For nearly 30 years, mining professionals from across the United States and numerous foreign countries have come to the Academy for health and safety training. Nearly a half-million people have trained at the Academy since it opened its doors in 1976.
That is an impressive number.
This is an exciting time to be at the Mine Academy.
The staff here has demonstrated an incredible commitment to maintaining a first-class environment for learning, and is keeping pace with technological developments in education and training.
The Academy is creating a model course format to ensure the consistency and achievement of measurable goals.
They are working with Marshall University to increase the activities in online training, and the staff here will be working toward proficiency in web-course development.
The Academy recently developed a draft proposal to begin a voluntary mentoring program between the instructors and their colleagues from Concord College and Mountain State University.
They truly are branching out.
While it may seem like an eternity to you, you've actually spent a relatively short time here, but I hope you leave with a much better understanding of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and what will be expected of you as federal mine inspectors.
I am always heartened by the fact that so many graduates are moving into second careers - many of you have already spent quite a few years in the mining industry.
I hope those were rewarding and fulfilling years.
And I hope that now that you are making the transition from industry to government, your tenure here will be just as rewarding.
This graduating class includes, fire bosses, shift foremen, equipment operators, an environmental technician, roof bolters, and mine examiners. And that is just a partial list.
Before I came to MSHA two and a half years ago, I spent nearly 30 years in coal mining.
Throughout my career, I strived to always be mindful of the importance of sound safety and health practices.
My beliefs about the importance of safety and health standards have been strengthened even further since I joined this Agency.
I trust that you will make the transition in a similar fashion.
And that you will strive to help ensure that all miners return home to their families safely at the end of every shift.
Each one of you will have a major role to play in fulfilling that goal.
As you leave the Academy with the knowledge and skill to be an inspector, I hope you'll begin cultivating an attitude of professionalism, respect, and dignity toward the people with whom you will come into daily contact.
These are our stakeholders: the mining companies throughout the country, mine workers, trade associations, labor organizations, state agencies and educational institutions -- all individuals and groups that have a vested interest in mine safety and health.
Our mission -- to uphold the highest standards of safety and health in order to prevent injury, illness and death in the mines -- should be a shared mission between ourselves and our stakeholders.
Use what you've learned over the last few months, and continue searching for new and creative ways to direct the efforts of this Agency.
Over the past 25 years, the improvements in mine health and safety are second to none, and that is in large part due to the efforts of the employees of this great agency.
Each one of you will have the opportunity to help shape the state of the industry in the future, a future that contains a vision of all miners returning home safely at the end of each working day.
We have set ambitious goals to help us reach that vision, and we are meeting the challenge.
What an exciting opportunity. It's about creating a "culture of prevention," and we do that by committing to make safety a value every single day.
Carry that message with you each time you visit a mine site.
And more importantly, live that message.
At work and at home.
Stress the importance of learning good safety practices and changing old behaviors.
Over the last few months, MSHA has engaged in a number of safety campaigns
in which mine inspectors have played an integral role.
Most recently, there is our Holiday Safety Initiative. We launched it December 8 and it will continue through New Year's.
We are urging miners to keep their focus on their work, not to become preoccupied by the activities that get in the way of them safely doing their jobs during the holidays.
MSHA is sending a series of alerts to every U.S. mining operation this month, as reminders about the potential wintertime hazards at worksites.
Mine inspectors also are doing their part to get this message out to miners and operators.
Last month, we conducted a second safety sweep of coal mines to point out potential hazards.
Three months before that, in August, we carried out a similar effort at metal and nonmetal mining operations around the country. You may have been a part of these efforts.
So as you can see, your job won't be just about writing citations.
It will encompass working closely with the mining community, instilling solid safety and health ideals, so that miners can continue to return home to their families after each shift.
It will be about creating that "culture of prevention."
Of course, as inspectors, you will be expected to uphold the law each and every day. We expect nothing less of you, and you should expect nothing less of yourselves.
Our challenge is to strike a balance between enforcement, education and training, and technical support, and integrating compliance assistance into each of those elements.
All of us need to remain vigilant, alert and steadfast in our efforts to think and promote safe work practices and safe production each and every day. It's a 24-hour-a-day job.
Talk to miners about the hazards they face each day on the job. Take time to discuss ways to prevent accidents before they happen.
Only by making safety a value can we hope to make further progress in miner safety and health.
In the last three weeks, I had the honor to meet with two of the year's eight Sentinels of Safety winners at their company's awards banquet.
I have made it my goal to visit each operation that wins this very prestigious safety award.
I can tell you that being in the company of organizations that have achieved hundreds of thousands of work hours without a lost-time injury in a 12-month period is truly inspiring.
It brings home a very clear message that the mining industry is capable of great things.
For MSHA's part, we are doing everything we can to get at the root cause of accidents, to learn from them, and prevent them from happening again.
Working together, we can surely achieve the most ambitious of safety and health goals. We can save lives, prevent painful injuries and illnesses, and prevent losses that affect miners, their families and companies.
That should be our focus and our goal. We can do it, and I believe that with your help, we will.
I know that you are eager to receive your diplomas, so I won't take up any more of your time.
And thank you for all that you do - and will do -- for our nation's miners.
And to the families of these graduates, thank you for the sacrifices you have made during this intense training period.
I wish you all a happy, safe and healthy holiday season, and I look forward to working with all of you in 2004.
God bless America and our nation's miners.