Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Washington Group International Safety Workshop
February 10, 2004
Thank you Brad [Brad Giles, VP Environmental Safety & Health] for the kind introduction.
I also want to thank Tom Zarges [COO] and Steven Johnson [Chief Business Development Officer], and in particular Rick Callor for the invitation to join you today.
When I got the letter asking me to participate in the Safety Workshop, I knew I had to come.
First, I have a number of friends here in the audience - people I've worked with and respect. Moreover, WGI is one of this nation's top engineering, construction and management solutions firms. I'm very familiar with Morrison Knudsen and other member companies. Most importantly, I came because WGI is committed to making safety a core value.
I know that all the members of the WGI team here today - whether you're in mining, or power plant construction, or managing a city rail system - are equally determined to keep your employees and customers safe and healthy.
I can see from your agenda and workshops that you have covered a number of key safety and health issues - like ergonomics, respiratory protection, and hazardous materials. In fact, after I speak, I noticed that there's a talk specifically on mine safety.
What I would like to do this morning is discuss with you how MSHA is changing to fit the needs of the 21st century mining industry. How we are changing our culture, developing new partnerships, applying new technologies, and creating a number of new initiatives and programs to better serve our stakeholders - mine operators, miners, safety associations, and health and safety managers like you.
I hope you will come to better understand the MSHA team, and how by working together we can further prevent on-the-job injuries and fatalities.
COMMUNICATING THE MESSAGE:
At MSHA, our key stakeholders are the 340,000 men and women who work directly in America's mining industry -- including coal, metal and nonmetal mines. Wal-Mart may have that many employees in just six or seven states, but today's miners are essential for everything from powering our electric grid to providing the sand, gravel and stone to keep today's housing and construction boom going strong.
In short, today's miners are vital to the success of this nation's economy and security.
As head of MSHA, my goal is quite simple - making sure that every miner is able to go home healthy and safe after every shift. Getting there is the difficult part - as it involves education and training, enhancing technical services, enforcement, compliance assistance, and building new relationships and alliances.
Through these means we have made significant progress in helping prevent incidents that cause fatalities and injuries.
In fact, last year the U.S. mining industry set its best safety record since statistics were first compiled in 1910. 56 miners died in mining-related incidents versus 67 in 2002 -- a decrease of 16 percent. The decline in injury rates has followed downward as well. And over the past three years deaths have declined at a remarkable 33 percent.
These are not just numbers, but lives saved and tragedies averted. We must always remember the human cost and face of fatalities.
The decline in the fatality and injury rate is the result of a number of factors. The most important I believe is the new emphasis MSHA places on communications - both within MSHA and with our stakeholders.
There can be no question that if you are to make safety the value that determines all your choices you must start internally with your employees. At MSHA we have been successful in making our goals and methods clear to every member of our team - they are the performance measures by which every person in evaluated.
We have established a number of health and safety benchmarks for each of our managers to achieve - their promotions and salary are determined by their ability to achieve real results.
Given that the President and Labor Secretary both have MBA's, you should expect nothing less than the ability to demonstrate tangible, measurable results.
Not only have we established clear goals, but we haven't sat back behind our desks. Communicating internally also requires that you get out and talk to your employees in the field. All of MSHA's top managers are constantly on the move. In fact, I've personally visited every one of our 17 district offices - at least twice to talk with our employees.
In fact, whenever I am on the road, I also make sure to visit mines as often as possible. I've really appreciated the opportunities to visit these operations. There's nothing like getting out into the workplace to remind you what it's all about -- you don't get lost in bureaucratic jargon and abstractions. It's truly where the rubber meets the road.
Even with all the progress we've made in advocating mine health and safety, we still have a long way to go.
OUTREACH / INTIATIVES:
To keep in touch with stakeholders we have developed a number of special initiatives. I know that many of you are not in the mining industry, but I think these examples will give you an idea of our outreach strategy.
Last year we started the National Coal Mine Safety Awareness Day. The purpose of this event is to raise the awareness level among coal miners and operators concerning hazard recognition and prevention. We sent over 600 enforcement, training and technical support personnel to 1,500 active coal mines, over a two week period, to speak directly with our stakeholders.
For Metal and Nonmetal mines we initiated special Spring Thaw Workshops which come just before the start of the high-production season. They also are specially designed to increase awareness of mine safety hazards.
And to make sure even our smallest stakeholders are not ignored, we created a small mines office whose sole purpose is to help small mine operators comply with safety and health regulations or just help them develop a safety program. Last year we took health and safety education on the road and visited more than 1,600 of these small mines.
Besides on-site visits, we also utilize cyberspace to reach out to our stakeholders. For example, we have just launched two National Webcasts. With over 200 people online, we analyzed fatalities - both causes and prevention - and discussed best practices. And then there is our web site - which gives stakeholders the ability to download materials, submit forms, or just ask us a question.
If you want to participate in one of our national webcasts, or be included in our email registry - and receive various updates on regulations, training, etc -- just let me know.
Strengthening our relations with our stakeholders goes beyond making on-site visits and email. It also requires closer coordination and communications - which is why we are also developing a number of special alliances and cooperative agreements.
Last year we entered into our first Alliance Agreement with several mining industry and safety organizations - including the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. 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 benchmark real progress.
Equally important, MSHA is now forming partnerships with non-traditional groups and organizations that impact the mining community. For example, we just signed the first alliance agreement ever between a labor union and MSHA. The agreement, with the International Union of Operating Engineers, focuses on homeland security - with an emphasis on rescue and recovery services. Moreover, we have a new relationship with the Ironworkers union. We're helping train their instructors and develop training materials for their safety classes.
TRIANGLE OF SUCCESS:
Of course, these are just a few of the initiatives and outreach programs we're involved with. Actually, they are a part of MSHA's overall strategy, our Triangle of Success - which is using a balanced approach to mine safety involving technical assistance, education and training, and enforcement.
When it comes to technical assistance, we're working on a number of important projects that may interest you - like the exploration of new technologies for scaling highwalls, and haul road design to help control runaway vehicles. We're also investigating new types of lighting systems that could be installed on lift equipment to significantly improve the ability of miners to judge the stability of mine roofs and back.
Most importantly -- for those in the mining industry -- we're working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to test prototypes of a personal 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 - which can cause black lung.
Needless to say, when it comes to education and training, almost everything we do involves some type of educational component. But the crown jewel of MSHA's educational and training programs is the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in West Virginia. Our doors are always open to help mining companies with annual refresher courses, mine rescue training, mine foreman certification and electrical training.
Besides education, training and technical assistance, our strategy to further improve safety and health performance also involves compliance assistance. Today, compliance assistance is an integral part of every component of MSHA activities.
No longer are we guided by a "got ya" mentality. We understand that the vast majority of mine operators want to do the right thing -- and we should be willing to assist in that 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 determine the roots causes of hazards that lead to both violations and incidents. We want these inspections to be a win/win for all the parties involved.
But please make no mistake - where there are violations, we will take tough 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.
Overall, our strategy is taking hold and we are making a real difference in the lives of miners. What we are doing is creating a culture of prevention. One that allows for:
- Better cooperation between MSHA personnel and mine operators
- Closer working relationships with equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the research and development of new technologies
- Collaboration with academia and others to find more efficient ways to educate miners
- Development of new alliances with traditional and non traditional stakeholders.
Quite honestly, we want to become the premier mining safety and health agency in the federal government, second to none.
I could continue to give you a more detailed list of all the changes going on within MSHA, and even more of our initiatives, but let me stop here.
By now I'm sure you have gotten the message -- that MSHA is committed to helping the mining industry continue to improve its safety and health performance.
As safety and health managers we all have the same goal and purpose. Working together and pooling our experience and talents can make a real difference in the lives of our employees and all stakeholders.
Again, thank you for the invitation to join you today. I appreciate all you are doing to help make safety a core value.
Have a great workshop.
May God bless America's miners - and God bless America.