Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health West Virginia Coal Association 2004 Coal Symposium Charleston, West Virginia January 15, 2004
Thank you, Bill, for the kind introduction. I would also like to thank Chris Hamilton for the invitation to join you today, and their staff for putting together an outstanding conference.
It's great to be back to Charleston for my third Symposium. (As they say, three's a charm.) Every year MSHA has participated, we have come away with new ideas, new partners and a renewed sense of commitment to the West Virginia coal mining community.
As all of you know, West Virginia is one of our key states. We have two MSHA district offices here, and the MSHA National Mine Health and Safety Academy is located just down the road in Beckley. Most importantly, we have some great friends in the state.
This morning, I'd like to give you an update on the progress MSHA's made on meeting our safety and health goals. More specifically, I would like to talk about this year's agenda, regulatory and enforcement issues, and our new programs and initiatives for the coming years.
While the great seal of the Department of Labor has all the proud emblems of the 19th century economy - like a plow and anvil -- I can assure you that we are working hard to make our regulations, technology and culture reflect the realities of the 21 century.
Safety: Performance and Initiatives
When I attended my first Symposium back in 2001, we made a pledge to all of you that MSHA would be in closer touch with its stakeholders. And we have. Not only have we held dozens of meetings, and formed new partnerships, but I personally visited mines in almost every MSHA district. (And I have the travel vouchers to prove it!)
We have also strengthened our management team, made compliance assistance a top priority, enhanced our web site, updated our training materials, and are involved in dozens of similar initiatives. Almost all of the things our stakeholders asked us to do.
While we have some of the safest mines in the world, we knew we could do better. And we have.
- Mining fatalities in 2003 were at their lowest level since statistics were first recorded back in 1910.
- The mining industry has achieved results that cannot be ignored. Since the year 2000, fatal injuries have decreased by 30 -- from 85 in the year 2000 to 55 last year. A 35 percent reduction! And we are seeing similar results in the rates of injury as well.
- Moreover, fatalities due to roof falls in the coal mining industry were reduced to two during 2003. And the coal mining industry last year was free of fatal injuries in the month of December - a first! I can thank everyone here for making this happen. I wrote to every mine operator weekly during December to emphasize winter hazards and the need to stay alert -- and you listened. And you should be proud of your accomplishments.
And that meant fewer human tragedies. We must always remember the human cost and face of fatalities. These are not just numbers, but lives saved and tragedies averted. And it meant that all coal miners spent the holiday season with their families.
The more progress we make, however, the more difficult it becomes to keep the momentum going. We cannot become complacent, because 55 deaths is 55 too many. We must continue to change behaviors and processes that lend themselves to injuries and fatalities.
At MSHA, we are committed to achieving the goals we set in 2001 - to reduce fatality rates by 15 percent, and injury rates by 50 percent in 5 years. It's a tall order but we can accomplish this. Let me tell you how we're going to help the industry make it happen and to help sustain continuous improvement.
FIRST, we're making safety the value that determines our choices. And we are using this value to create a culture of prevention. In particular, we're emphasizing a balanced approach to mine safety. We're using education and training, technical assistance, and enforcement - our "Triangle of Success" - to reach our shared vision.
Here in West Virginia, for example, the National Mine Health and Safety Academy has opened its doors to dozens of West Virginia mining companies to help them with annual refresher, mine rescue, mine foreman certification, and electrical training.
We've even taken mine safety education on the road. Our new program called "Training Makes A Difference," brings education and training to mines sites throughout the country.
Also our new small mine office has been very active. We visited more than 1,600 small mines last year to provide safety and health information.
When it comes to technical assistance, we've also have had success utilizing technology to address a number of safety and health concerns.
For example, here in West Virginia, innovative technology safely extinguished a fire and saved miners' jobs. MSHA closely worked with the mine operator in bringing to the U.S a specialized jet engine from Australia. The jet exhaust directed into the mine successfully suppressed the fire - a first in the U.S. coal industry.
Also, MSHA has initiated a joint industry project to develop a proximity protection system for installation on remote controlled continuous mining machines. All the parties involved -- the mining manufacturers, the developers of the system, and MSHA's technical experts - are very encouraged and believe the system will have a positive effect.
Besides education, training and technical assistance, the SECOND way we're gearing up to further reduce accidents is through compliance assistance. Today, compliance assistance is an integral part of every component of MSHA activities.
Although some may believe differently, we have worked hard to get away from the "got ya" mentality. We understand that the vast majorities of mine operators want to do the right thing -- and we should be willing to assist you in your objective. We believe that assisting employers in complying with the law is every bit as important as enforcement.
All of our mine visits are now "inspections with a purpose." Inspectors are there to help you determine the root causes of hazards that lead to both violations and accidents. We want these inspections to be a win/win for all the parties involved.
But make no mistake - where there are violations, we will take enforcement action. We will continue to hold the mining industry to stringent standards - while we provide advice and assistance to those who are working to improve safety performance.
Partnerships: The Safety Nexus
Finally, we plan to reduce mine injuries and fatalities by initiating and encouraging our stakeholders to strengthen their partnerships with MSHA.
MSHA has made some good headway in forming new alliances and cooperative agreements across the country.
Last year we entered into our first "Alliance Agreements" with several mining industry and safety organizations - including the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Safety Council.
What is unique about these agreements are that they commit MSHA and the participating organizations to work together towards shared, specific goals, with mechanisms to bench-mark real progress.
Locally, we continue to strengthen our ties with the West Virginia coal mining community.
There has been an exceptional collaborative effort here in West Virginia between MSHA and with Doug Conaway and his team. We have jointly developed a program of instruction in mine examinations for both underground coal operators and mine examiners. It's now being offered at mines and in MSHA offices.
Also we're continuing to beef up our Tri-State Initiative - which started last year and addresses coal mine safety and health concerns in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Recent activities have included training truck drivers and mechanics how to do pre-operational checks.
We've even developed a Truck Haulage CD that illustrates some of the safety deficiencies, such as defective brakes, that are commonly found on truck inspections.
Equally important, MSHA is forming partnerships with non-traditional groups and organizations that impact the mining community. For example, we have a new relationship with the Ironworkers union - we're helping train their instructors and we are helping them develop training materials for their safety classes.
Looking Ahead: Change All Around
Compliance assistance, partnerships, training and education, technical assistance, enforcement - these and other initiatives will continue through 2004.
Of course, we have a number of new programs we want to expand this year.
For example, throughout the United States, too many old abandoned mines are not adequately mapped - as in the case of the Quecreek mine accident. That's why last month MSHA awarded West Virginia a grant of $1.2 million to establish an electronic system of digitizing underground maps for abandoned mines.
Meanwhile, we've working closely with West Virginia mine operators and others to address this ongoing issue. So you can look forward to more technical conferences and public service announcements addressing this concern.
This year you will also see more initiatives in West Virginia to reduce dust levels and prevent lung disease. Our programs have already had positive results - with reducing violations for excessive dust by more than half in a 3-year period.
Clearly more needs to be done. As you know the system for measuring and controlling coal miners' dust exposure has been essentially the same for 30 years. (Back when Microsoft was a cleaning detergent!)
Industry and labor agreed last year that the personal dust monitor now under development should be the cornerstone of the revised system. We have been working closely with NIOSH in testing prototypes. The in-mine tests have been promising, and we look forward to continuing tests with the production prototype units later this year.
This year, you will also see our continuing effort to remove regulatory barriers to the application of new technologies. For instance, in 2002 we finalized mandatory standards for high-voltage longwall mining systems in underground coal mines.
This year we are starting a similar rulemaking project to address high-voltage continuous miners. We'll be asking for input from all stakeholders - and we hope you will give us your comments.
Finally, you'll continue to see this year more changes within MSHA. It's no secret that we are in the midst of transforming our entire agency - from a tradition bound, bureaucratic organization into an efficient, accessible, and nimble federal agency.
To continue our structural and cultural transformation, MSHA is beginning a new round of strategic planning - and MSHA's top managers recently met over a several day period to begin developing a new 5-year roadmap.
Our goal is quite simple. We want to become the premier mining safety and health agency in the federal government, second to none, and the leader of all the other alphabet soup of government safety agencies, in order to reach our vision - a vision that sees all miners go home at the end of each shift in a safe and healthy condition.
I could continue to give you a more detailed list of all the initiatives and changes going on within MSHA, but let me stop here. By now I'm sure you have gotten the message - that MSHA is committed to helping you and the mining industry bring down even further injury and fatality rates.
MSHA's emphasis on producing real safety and heath results comes directly from the White House. President George W. Bush - the first President with an MBA - has made it a top priority of his Administration to transform the way government functions.
As he once said, "Government likes to begin things, to declare grand new programs. But good beginnings are not the measure of success. What matters in the end is completion. Performance. Results. Not just making promises."
At MSHA, we have taken this message to heart - as has the entire U.S. Department of Labor team. Under the leadership of Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the entire Labor Department team is working hard to protect worker safety and health.