Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA
Annual South Central Joint Mine Health & Safety Conference
"Creating a Culture of Prevention"
Albuquerque, New Mexico
March 30, 2004
Introduction-Charge to the Participants
Thank you Eddie (Edward Lopez, MSHA District Manager) for the kind introduction. I also want to thank Judy Tate, the local MSHA team, and Ms. Tain Tran and others at the University of Texas, Austin, Professional Development Center for help in putting conference together.
Let me also acknowledge this morning's featured speaker, Keith Espelien of the Mississippi Line Company, for joining us today.
I especially want to thank all of you for coming out here to New Mexico for several days of talks, discussions and workshops on mine safety and health.
And I want you to know how honored I am to be part of President George W. Bush's team, and to be guided by a truly remarkable boss, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, who is committed to workplace's that are fair, healthy and safe.
In the audience we have with us a wide variety of professionals from the mining industry - from law offices and unions to safety associations and mining companies. This is by far one of the most diverse South Central District Conferences held to date. Taken together, we're looking at millions of hours of experience and knowledge in managing mine safety and health.
In particular, the companies represented here today -- along with those in the over half-a-dozen states which make up the South Central District -- are some of the most profitable and essential mining operations in the nation.
- The world's largest primary lead producer - the Doe Run Company - is headquartered in St. Louis and operates a number of mines and smelters in Missouri.
- The Molycorp Company - which operates the underground Questa mine here in New Mexico - is one of only a handful of mines in the U.S. that is a primary producer of molybdenum, which is necessary for steel making.
- And 3M operates a plant in Little Rock that is a major producer of granules for asphalt roof shingles.
Together, you're helping bolster this nation's economy by mining the energy to keep the national electrical grid running the raw materials to keep home and office construction at record levels and the scarce natural resources essential for foreign trade. This is one Agency and Administration that values the contributions you make to keep America safe, secure and employed
Now I know the golfing sessions the other day were a big draw for you to attend this year's meetings - and have consumed a lot of your conversations which I am sure have been quite interesting. Now it's time to talk about the importance of why we are here.
Every single day more than 340,000 thousand men and women work in this nation's mines, and it's up to us to make sure that each and every one of them goes home safe and healthy after their shifts.
That's why conferences like this are so important - to provide additional tools to help safeguard the lives and health of America's miners.
During the next three days you will hear from a number of speakers on a wide variety of subjects -- from controlling biohazards, to pressurized vessel safety, to managing a hearing conservation program.
Please take advantage of this golden opportunity to learn and share from your colleagues, MSHA and the other professionals. Our hope is that you will return to your place of work with new insights and practical tools to help create an ever safer and healthier mine environment - where the culture is one of prevention, not of reaction.
Communicating the Message
Working together we have made significant and lasting progress in helping prevent incidents that cause fatalities and injuries, as well as controlling incidents of overexposure to respirable dust and other substances that can lead to illness.
Last year, the U.S. mining industry achieved its best safety record since statistics were first compiled in 1910. 56 miners died in mining-related incidents versus 68 in 2002 -- a decrease of 17 percent. The decline in injury rates has followed downward as well. And over the past three years deaths have declined at a remarkable 34 percent and injury rates by more than 20 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 rates are the result of a number of factors. The most important I believe is our ability to remove barriers that may exist and to embrace the new emphasis MSHA places on communications and outreach - both within MSHA and with our stakeholders.
If you are to make safety and health the values that determine all your choices, you must start internally with your employees. At MSHA we are making our goals and methods clear to every member of our team. They are the performance measures by which every person in evaluated. And they will help serve as catalysts (internally and externally) toward continuous progress in health and safety performance.
Communicating internally also requires that you get out and talk to your employees in the field. MSHA's top managers are constantly on the move. I've personally visited every one of our 17 district offices - at least twice to talk with our employees. Whenever I am on the road, I also make sure to visit mines as often as possible. Just yesterday, I was at an aggregates mine in Arizona and last week in an underground coal mine in western Kentucky.
Of course, communicating with our stakeholders is a major priority - and the reason for this conference. To keep in touch we have developed a number of special initiatives, including:
- National Coal Mine Safety Awareness Day. 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.
- Spring Thaw Workshops. For metal and nonmetal mines, they are specially designed to increase awareness of mine safety hazards before the start of the high-production season.
- The Small Mines Office. Last year we took health and safety education on the road and visited more than 1,600 of small mines.
- National Webcasts. With hundreds of stakeholders online, we analyze fatalities for causation and methods of prevention, and to discuss best practices. (If you want to participate or be included in our email registry and receive various updates on regulations, training, etc just let us know.)
- Hispanic Outreach. Portions of our web site and a number of our publications are available in Spanish. We also have bilingual employees, and offer mine-site sessions in Spanish.
- Holiday Safety Initiative. I wrote to every mine operator weekly during December to emphasize winter hazards and the need to stay alert and focused. And the results were historic - not one fatal injury in the coal mining industry for that month.
Strengthening our relations with you, our stakeholders, goes beyond making on-site visits or web-casts. It also requires closer coordination, which is why we are also developing a number of special alliance agreements.
Trade associations, labor unions, and professional societies are recognizing the advantage of working directly with MSHA rather than independently to reach health and safety goals. And they are demonstrating their commitment by signing alliance agreements which go further than just putting pen to paper. For example:
- The CEO's of the member companies of the NSSGA (National Stone, Sand and gravel Association) have formally pledged to adopt MSHA's safety and health performance goals as their own. This is a first for the industry.
- The National Safety Council (NSC), not traditionally associated with the mining industry, has mobilized their diverse membership to protect children from the hazards associated with mine sites through the "Stay Out-Stay Alive (SOSA)" partnership. In fact, later today I will be joined by Bobby Jackson, NSC's Senior V.P. to kickoff our annual SOSA campaign at a local elementary school. We are also working with the NSC to help bring the world largest gathering of health and safety professionals to Orlando, Florida in September of 2005 for the World Safety Congress.
- And the leadership of the International Union of Operating Engineers took the bold step earlier this year to join MSHA and undertaking joint emergency response training and exercises in order to bolster our nation's homeland security. This is MSHA's first formal agreement with a labor organization - and just last week we held our first meeting to set the parameters by which the alliance will function.
These partnerships, initiatives and outreach programs are part of MSHA's overall strategy, our "Triangle of Success" - which involves using a balanced approach to mine safety and health 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.
And when it comes to education and training, the crown jewel of MSHA's programs is our Academy in West Virginia. Our doors are always open to help mining companies with annual refresher courses, mine rescue training, foreman certification, etc. (I know that a number of you in the audience have done so.)
And then there's our new emphasis on compliance assistance -- we've made it an integral part of every component of MSHA activities.
I hope we are no longer viewed as being 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 identify and determine the roots causes of hazards that lead to both violations and incidents. We want these inspections to be a win/win/win for all the parties involved.
And, as we have been doing, 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. This is our charge, our mandate, our objective.
Conclusion -- Call to Action Overall, the strategy that we put in place three years ago is working. Together we are making a real difference in the lives of the miners and in the vitality of our industry.
But we must remain all inclusive when it comes to safety and health training and development. I want to remind you that you are not to leave any miner behind - whether new immigrant or independent contractor.
In the coming months and years ahead you will find MSHA less tradition bound and bureaucratic and more efficient and accessible. There will be more cooperation, closer working relationships, and better collaboration with our stakeholders.
As safety and health managers we all have the same goal and purpose. Working together and pooling our experience and talents has made a real difference in the lives of our employees. But much more remains to be done, to achieve the common vision we all share - that all miners return home to their loved ones at the end of every working day in a healthy and safe condition.
Let me conclude with an editorial that was recently written by the editor-in-chief of Coal Age Magazine. He writes
The new mantra for the coal business is 0 fatalities. We now have the potential to make that a reality in the near future. It's certainly an attainable goal. Wouldn't that be something, more than a billion tons of coal and no one loses their life?
The same should hold true for metal and non metal mines. Wouldn't that be something, billions of tons of sand and gravel, potash, lime, alumina and also no loss of life? That's the challenge to the industry and what we should all strive for!
Thank you for coming. I appreciate all you are doing to help make safety and health core values.
May God bless America and her miners