Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA
Blasting Vibration Technology Conference
January 19, 2004
Key West, Florida
Good morning thank you for the kind introduction.
I would especially like to thank D.T. Froedge and Al for the invitation to join you. I'm honored that you would think to invite me to your meeting.
And I think this may actually be the first time MHSA has addressed this group.
Today affords us a great opportunity to get to know each other. We have much in common - especially our commitment to safety.
As I was preparing my remarks I ran across a story you might find it interesting. It is an excellent example of what not to do when handling explosives.
A guy from Wisconsin takes his brand new $50,000 Lincoln Navigator, his dog and a friend to go duck hunting.
Naturally, it's winter and all the lakes are frozen.
He drives out onto the ice-covered lake, and their first order of business is to create a natural landing area for the ducks.
In order to make a hole large enough for the ducks to land on, they need something more powerful than an ice hole drill.
So, out of the back of the new Navigator truck comes a stick of dynamite with a short 40-second fuse.
They prudently decide to place the stick of dynamite in an area far from where they, and the new truck, will be standing.
They also don't want to risk slipping on the ice when they run from the burning fuse.
They light the fuse and throw the dynamite.
However, the retrieving instinct of the highly trained black labrador kicks in, and the dog takes off at a high rate of canine speed.
He catches the stick of dynamite in his mouth just before it hits the ice.
He begins to prance proudly back to his master.
The two men yell, scream, and begin waving their arms wildly. The dog, probably thinking he's being cheered on, increases his gait.
One of the men, not thinking clearly, grabs the shotgun and shoots the dog. Fortunately, it's loaded with #8 shot, and causes no damage.
The dog, slightly confused but otherwise unharmed, stops for a moment, then continues on.
Another shot and, this time, the dog becomes frightened. Still clutching the stick of dynamite, he takes cover under the Navigator.
The men continue to yell as they run away from the scene.
The exhaust pipe on the truck is still hot, so the dog yelps, drops the dynamite, and takes off after his master.
You can imagine what happens next.
The truck is blown to bits and its remains sink to the bottom of the lake.
Unfortunately for the truck's owner, his insurance company says that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered.
And he hadn't even made his first car payment.
I came out here to Key West not just for the sun - though it helps. But to discuss with you a number of important initiatives MSHA is working on that will directly impact your business.
First, I am very pleased to tell you mining fatalities in 2003 were at their lowest level since statistics were first recorded back in 1910. In fact, the last three years have been record-setting years.
Since the year 2000, fatal mining injuries have decreased by 30 - from 85 in the year 2000, to 55 last year. That's a reduction of 35 percent!
At MSHA, we are working diligently to reduce fatality and injury rates in order to achieve our shared vision, a vision that sees every miner going home at the end of their work shift in a healthy and safe condition.
I believe we can reach this goal with your help.
As trained professionals, you have the commitment and the knowledge to help prevent blasting accidents before they happen.
To drive the safety message, we have emphasized a balanced approach using enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance - our Triangle of Success.
In particular, we're working toward a culture of prevention which emphasizes compliance assistance.
Today's MSHA inspectors are far more pro-active -- assisting mine operators to determine the roots causes of hazards.
As a result, serious violations continue to decline in parallel with serious injuries and fatalities - a win/win result for all parties.
AT MSHA (and throughout the entire Department of Labor) we understand that the vast majority of mine operators and others want to do the right thing.
And we should be willing to assist you in your objective.
We believe that assisting employers with the law is every bit as important as enforcement.
One of the best ways to help you comply with the various laws and regulation is through training and education. And we are especially proud of our training facility in Beckley, West Virginia.
Over the past 27 years, nearly a half-million people have received classroom instruction and hands-on technical training at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy.
Students have represented all echelons in the mining industry.
Our Academy staff also develops educational videos, DVDs, and other materials that cover safety and inspection procedures, accident prevention, and many other subjects.
So if you have an interest in coming down to West Virginia to see the Academy, or wish to take an active part in our training, just give us a call. It's not as nice as the Keys in the winter, but it's quite pleasant in the summer!
Besides the overriding importance of safety, we share another common goal - security.
Since 9/11, security measures have tightened.
The mining industry suddenly found itself a player in law enforcement's efforts to keep America safe by keeping destructive materials out of the hands of terrorists.
In 2000, the United States consumed some 5.7 billion pounds of explosives -- and mining represents the largest consumer of explosives at nearly 90 percent.
We're working very hard to get the safety message out on the use of explosives - and again we need your help.
Together we can strike at the heart of what causes blasting injuries and fatalities - including the breakdown in security, faulty blast design, lack of communication, and improper loading and firing.
MSHA is actually federally mandated to inspect the storage and use of explosives on all mine sites. Since 1971, the Agency has coordinated such efforts in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
In a post-9/11 world, these inspection procedures have taken on increased importance and scrutiny.
Within months of the attacks, Congress passed the Safe Explosives Act to keep deadly explosives out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
The legislation requires people who want to acquire and possess explosive materials to obtain a permit. It also requires them to adhere to proper storage and safety regulations of explosives.
The Memorandum of Understanding we have with the ATF is being reviewed to address this new legislation.
Our draft of the revised MOU is near completion and will soon with be shared with our counterparts at ATF.
Thank you again for all you are doing to make blasting safer.
Your industry and profession is one of the finest - and I look forward to working with you in the future. May God bless America's miners - and God bless America.