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Assistant Secretary of Labor MSHA, Dave D. Lauriski
"Creating a Culture of Compliance"
2004 G. Albert Shoemaker Lecture in Mineral Engineering
Pennsylvania State University, PA
April 23, 2004


Thank you for the kind introduction

I want to express my appreciation to Mrs. Shoemaker, Dean Barron, Dr. Ramani, faculty of the Department of Energy and GeoEnvironmental Engineering, and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences for the invitation to give the Albert Shoemaker Lecture in Mineral Engineering.

Albert Shoemaker is a shining example of what one man can accomplish with vision and determination - all of us in the coal industry respected his business abilities and admired his philanthropic efforts. Mrs. Mercedes Shoemaker continues this legacy today, and I want to express my gratitude to her for supporting this lecture series and Penn State University.

I am honored that you would invite me to join the ranks of other industrial leaders and give this year's lecture. I especially appreciate the invitation as I discovered that I am the first Assistant Secretary of Labor ever to give a Shoemaker lecture -- and I hope other government officials will soon follow in my footsteps.

I also want to acknowledge the fine work Dr. Ramani has done over the years in protecting miner's health and safety. He has worked closely with the Mine and Safety and Health Administration and I always welcome the opportunity to further our relationship with him and his department.

Finally, I want to commend the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences for offering one of the country's finest degree programs in mining engineering and industrial health and safety. The university now provides nearly 100 health and safety courses for miners and mine operators in the state. That's a big undertaking and responsibility and MSHA is pleased to be a partner to help make this program so successful. Besides educating miners, this training also provides students with hands-on experience - which is why they are sought after by industry.

As one recent graduate from the program said, "the sky is the limit when you graduate." This is no idle boast, as there are thousands of good job opportunities in the industrial health and safety profession. I know for certain in the mining industry, that the door is always open for graduates with degrees in health and safety.

At MSHA, and at our sister agency the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (known as OSHA), we're always looking for new talent.

I encourage the students in the mineral engineering program here today to look to government service - there is no greater calling than safeguarding the health and security of America's workers.

PAST AND PRESENT

I noticed when I came in today that the Penn State Obelisk on Allen Street is still standing - a monument to the time when the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences was better known as the School of Mines. Constructed back in 1896, at the princely sum of seven hundred and eight dollars and nine cents, I can't help but think of how much has changed for the working conditions of miners since that obelisk went up at the turn of the last century.

Now, my grandfather was a coal miner, and so too were many of my relatives back then, and they helped fuel the fires of the furnaces and boilers that made America the industrial power that would soon eclipse the empires of Europe. Mining - especially coal mining -- was very, very dangerous. It was overwhelming exhausting work requiring long fretful hours in damp, dark and often cold places.

In 1910, when the government started collecting statistics, over 3,500 miners lost their lives - and that's really just an estimate as the Indian territories and other regions were not included in the official totals. Of course, as time progressed, and so too technology, the number of fatalities dropped. But even in 1977, when the Mine Safety and Health Act was passed by Congress creating my agency, over 270 miners died on the job. Last year, there were far fewer -- 57 fatalities in 2003. I say this only in comparison to the other years fatalities, for we must always remember the human cost and face of these tragedies.

What I want to discuss with you this afternoon, is how the Mine and Safety and Health Administration is creating a new "culture of compliance" to help bring down the injury and fatality rates in our nation's mining industry. A culture of compliance that is relying on new tools, creative partnerships, and innovative initiatives and programs to help make sure that every miner comes home healthy and safe after their shift . . .

And in today's economy, the number of shifts is definitely increasing for America's miners. I know that recent speakers in the Shoemaker lecture series - like the President and COO of Peabody Energy -- have already discussed with you the upsurge in the mining industry, especially coal mining. In fact, their stock has soared more than fifty percent over the past year.

Coal is definitely back on the front burner as the demand for affordable electricity grows and natural gas prices become more expensive. Coal today costs less than $1 per million BTUs (British Thermal Units) compared to over $6 per million for natural gas. As a result, more coal companies are reopening closed mines and are looking to add more work shifts - and many of Pennsylvania's counties and townships are reaping the benefits.

For instance, the International Steel Group is reopening a mine near Ebensburg and creating over a thousand jobs - and this is being repeated throughout the state.

This expansion is also going on for a number of metal and non-metal mine operations, especially out west. In fact, long time farmers and ranchers in Montana are turning to rock as a cash crop because of the popularity for certain rock surfaces for decorative home use and construction. (Farmers are no longer cursing every last rock they had to pick out of their fields as they're now getting from $100 to $250 per ton!)

Yet, while the mining industry fuels the home boom and powers the nation's electrical grid, the number of miners is actually quite small. Out of a workforce of 146 million, only 340,000 men and women work in the entire American mining industry. Wal-Mart has that many employees in just seven or eight states.

BUILDING A RECORD OF SUCCESS

As the Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA, it is very gratifying to be in charge of securing the health and safety of all our nation's hard working miners. With a budget of nearly $269 million and over 2,300 MSHA employees, we are required by law to inspect every underground mine four times a year, and every surface mine twice a year.

In total, that's over 14,000 mines a year that MSHA must inspect. (In comparison, OSHA has a universe of 6.5 million workplaces to inspect, and would need 167 years to do it!) And one MSHA mine inspection can take weeks, ever months to accomplish.

When I took over as head of the agency, I set goals that many believed were unrealistic. One goal was to reduce fatalities by 15 percent annually. We have made very good progress in meeting this aggressive goal.

Last year the U.S. mining industry achieved its best safety record since 1910. As I mentioned earlier, 57 miners died in mining-related incidents last year versus 85 in 2000 - a decrease of 34 percent. The decline in injury rates has followed downward as well. These are not just numbers, but lives saved and tragedies averted.

Let me show you some statistics and graphics to illustrate the improvements in mine health and safety over the past several years.

This decline in the fatality and injury rates are the result of a number of factors. The most important I believe is the new emphasis MSHA places on communications and outreach - both within MSHA and with our stakeholders -- and the willingness of those we regulate to work with us in a collaborative way.

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 promotions and salary determined.

Given that President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of labor Elaine L. Chao both have MBA's, you would expect nothing less than the ability to demonstrate tangible, measurable results.

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. Over the past few weeks I have been to an aggregates mine in Arizona, underground coal mines in western and eastern Kentucky, and an underground lead mine in southern Missouri.

OUTREACH TO STAKEHOLDERS

Of course, communicating with our stakeholders is a major priority, and to keep in touch 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. Strengthening our relations with 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. They are demonstrating their commitment by signing alliance agreements which go further than just putting pen to paper. For example: TRIANGLE OF SUCCESS

These partnerships, initiatives and outreach programs are a 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 - with compliance assistance underpinning all our initiatives and programs.

When it comes to technical assistance, we're working on a number of important projects, including haul road design to help control runaway vehicles, and the use of robots armed with video cameras, gas detectors and thermal imaging devices to explore hazardous underground mine conditions.

Most importantly we're working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to test prototypes of a personal dust monitor (or PDM) for use in coal mines. The device will take constant readings of the air and would be able to download to a computer the miner's actual dust exposure levels after the shift ends.

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. The Academy's doors are always open to help mining companies with annual refresher courses, mine rescue training, mine foreman certification and electrical training. And I encourage both the students and mining faculty in the audience to come and visit.

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.

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.

CALL TO ACTION

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 compliance. One that allows for: 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.

Quite honestly, we want to become the premier mining safety and health agency in the federal government, second to none.

All safety and health managers have the same goal and purpose. That's why working together and pooling our experience and talents has made such a real difference in the lives of our employees. But much more remains to be done, to achieve the common vision we all share - having miners return home to their loved ones at the end of every working day in a healthy and safe condition

Let me conclude my remarks 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 again for the invitation to join you this afternoon.

I deeply appreciate the honor of being the 2004 Albert Shoemaker Lecturer.

May God bless you and America's miners.