Assistant Secretary of Labor MSHA
Graduation Inspector Ceremony
March 23, 2004
Congratulations and a special welcome to family and friends of the graduates.
I've been told by the instructors that this class will best be remembered for their team approach to various activities - and their special dedication to the end-of-the-day, deck side discussion sessions
I noticed that this group of graduates has over 300 year's total mining experience -- from all types of mining operations (from underground coal to surface sand and gravel) and related industries (construction and manufacturing). Taken together, today's graduates have played an essential role in keeping America's economy strong, and her miners safe and healthy.
That we have with us a graduate involved in the Wilberg Mine rescue and recovery effort, only underscores the challenge we face everyday to keep America's miners free from injury and death. Having been a part of this rescue and recovery effort and the now famous Quecreek incident, I know only so well the heartache and the joy involved in such missions.
Today, you join the nearly half-a-million people who have trained at the Academy since its doors opened in the mid 1970s. Tomorrow, you join those came before you who set the standard -- a standard in health and safety second to none. And tomorrow, you will be also a part of the 21st Century MSHA -- an MSHA that is united and that uses all the tools available to get the job done.
Much has changed over the years, in mining technology and operations. Yet, the constant has been the dedication that miners, operators and officials have toward safety and health.
Let's not forget the dedication and passion that the employees of MSHA have for mine health and safety, a passion unequaled by others. I have come to truly understand and appreciate our employees, more than I did when I was in the private sector. Your knowledge, skill and dedication are tremendous, and I am deeply honored to have the opportunity given to me by President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
This past year, as well as for the 2 years previous, we have reached a milestone - the U.S. mining industry set its best safety record since statistics were first compiled back in 1910.
Death and injury rates are falling to record lows. It's the job of today's graduates to keep the momentum going to make sure that all miners return home healthy and safe at the end of each work day to their waiting families.
These record numbers have been in large part due to the efforts of this agency -- an agency that serves as a catalyst to improving health and safety.
We do this in a number of ways, including:
- New initiatives - like the Spring Thaw Workshop.
- Opening the small mine office in order to provide assistance to the smallest operators who lack the necessary resources or knowledge of our complex rules.
- New relationships - as with the I.U.O.E. or the NSSGA.
- Web casts and other online services.
- Improved technical assistance and education. For example: proximity detection, diesel emission controls r&d for old mines, and interactive health and safety training.
- And let's not forget our enforcement duties.
When you go out into the field, we want our inspections to be a win/win for all the parties involved. We want you to identify potential hazards and help determine the root causes of hazards that lead to both violations and incidents.
Our job then, is to assist employers comply with the law. But remember also that improving the miners overall health and safety process is every bit as important as enforcement.
But make no mistake. Where you see violations, take enforcement action. That is your mandate that is the oath that you and I took to enforce the law.
Be firm, be fair, and make sure your inspections are inspections with a purpose. That way everyone wins.
I want each of you to hold the mining industry to the highest standards and to provide advice and assistance to those who are actively working to improve safety and health performance.
As MSHA inspectors you are at the forefront of mine safety and health. You are the human face and touch of this agency. You are our ambassadors -- as it were -- to the mining community.
Our reputation for honesty and integrity rests upon your shoulders. Your charge is clear: to prevent injury, illness and death in the nations mines by:
- Developing a culture of prevention
- Striking a balanced approach in your efforts
- Remaining vigilant and alert
- Committing to continuous education and training
- Instilling safety and health as core values, in your personal lives and the mines.
- Strengthening relationships with stakeholders
After nearly 35 years in the industry that is my personal mantra - please make it yours.
May God bless you and America's miners.