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Remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor John R. Correll
Mine Safety and Health Administration
2004 National Safety Congress
New Orleans, LA
September 14, 2004

Keynote Address

Thank you, Alan, for that kind introduction. I'm here in the place of Dave Lauriski, Assistant Secretary of MSHA, who could not be with us today. This speech and this venue are very important to him, and although he wanted to be here, it was just not possible. For my part, I am delighted and honored that I am able to be here and share my views with you today. I'm also happy to be sharing the podium with the heads of our sister agencies - OSHA's Assistant Secretary John Henshaw and NIOSH's Dr. John Howard.

It's always a pleasure to attend the National Safety Congress - as I look out over this audience I am awed by the safety and health expertise gathered here in one location. As safety and health professionals, we've dedicated our lives and our careers to promoting and protecting safety and health throughout this nation - and, indeed, throughout the world. I can't think of a more noble professional calling!

The Mine Safety and Health Administration been very busy over the last year. Today I want to catch you up on our recent accomplishments - and our plans for the future. We've achieved great things - and we have our sights set on still greater things to come.

The mining industry as a whole is experiencing a resurgence around the country, in all sectors. Demand for coal remains high. Overall U.S. coal consumption rose, according to industry estimates, by an estimated 2.6 percent in 2003, and the American coal mining industry produced more than a billion tons last year. And like coal, the demand for materials produced by the metal and non-metal sector continues to be critical to this nation's economy. Construction leads the demand for minerals mined in the United States - estimates for 2003 indicate that the value of new highway construction increased by almost 2% and housing starts by 7%. More increases are anticipated as the economy strengthens, creating a still higher demand for these raw materials crucial to building our great nation.

MSHA is proud of the work we do to protect American miners, and we are proud of how we accomplish our mission. We have many good news stories, and just in case you haven't seen or heard any of them lately, I'd like to tell you about some of them while we're here. Over the past three years, we have improved our enforcement efforts. We have increased our enforcement events per mine, we are completing more mandatory inspections of mines, and the onsite inspection hours per mine have also increased. We are doing more and making a difference. Inspections today are more than merely issuing citations. We are looking for root causes of conditions and practices that contribute to injuries and incidents, and we are looking for ways to help the industry correct them.

Like you, we are using new technologies to improve safety and health in our industry. We are exploring new ways to provide education and training to help reduce injuries and illness. We have entered into a new partnership with the National Guard in a distance learning experiment to provide training for our inspectors and the mining industry. MSHA's Mine Health and Safety Academy was recently chosen by the National Guard to become a Distributive Training Technology Project (DTTP) site. The Academy is now equipped with computer workstations and video conferencing equipment as part of the National Guard network of more than 300 electronically linked classrooms across the United States. We will use this network to reach hundreds of miners who would otherwise have been unable to benefit from MSHA's education and training courses. This partnership allows MSHA to reach an even wider audience efficiently, effectively and at low cost.

We continue to work on a number of very important projects to provide technical assistance to the mining industry. This includes a proximity detector for continuous mining machines that will stop the machine when a miner enters a defined danger zone, which will reduce the possibility of injury and death to miners. We expect to have the system installed this month on a continuous mining machine at a mine, and will move to full field trials before the end of the year. We expect this device will be a significant prevention tool when it becomes fully operational.

We have continued our important work with NIOSH on a number of fronts, including Personal Dust Monitors, a respirable dust sampling device that provides a real time measure of a worker's dust exposure. They are currently being tested at MSHA's Approval and Certification Center, and we hope to begin field testing of the Personal Dust Monitors with NIOSH sometime this fall.

All our efforts and initiatives remain directed toward our bottom line: To fulfill our mandate of "reducing injury, illness and death in our nation's mines." Today, there are fewer incidents of injuries and fewer fatalities in mining than ever before. It is an accomplishment that bears repeating: in 2003, for a third year in a row, the mining industry achieved its safest year on record - the safest three years in all recorded mining history in the United States.

Just think about what that means: more miners than ever before are going home to their families safe and healthy. That is a great accomplishment, and I'm so proud of my agency for being a catalyst to bring this about. MSHA recognizes its leadership responsibilities. However, we also recognize that MSHA cannot achieve its goals by itself.

So how do we accomplish our goals? Through teamwork, outreach, focusing our efforts on areas where the greatest return can be achieved, and through cooperation rather than confrontation. Inside and outside our organization, we have worked with each other, with industry, with miners, with manufacturers and suppliers, with academia - with the entire spectrum of the mining community - to improve safety and health in our nation's mines.

One excellent example of teamwork is the Dotiki mine in Western Kentucky. Some of you may have read about it earlier this year. Seventy miners were evacuated from the mine when a fire broke out underground. The fire was very serious and posed significant risk to the miners at the site.

Everyone pulled together and assembled resources including MSHA, the state, the company and the parent company. Together - with teamwork - the Dotiki mine made remarkable progress. It was a situation that could have easily taken - that in the past would have taken - months and perhaps a year or more to resolve. Working together, we resolved the situation safely in four weeks. Four short weeks. Today, 360 miners are back on the job, gainfully employed, providing for their families. And thousands of tons of coal are continuing to flow to the market. That's what teamwork can accomplish, and that's what teamwork like this can mean to the mining community.

Our close work with other organizations extends beyond other government agencies. We have an active and meaningful alliance program that allows MSHA to partner with like-minded organizations. MSHA and its alliance partners work together to reach out to educate and lead the nation's mine operators and miners in improving mine safety and health.

Last year, you may remember, MSHA signed an alliance in Chicago with the National Safety Council. This agreement formalized a long and cooperative association between MSHA and the Council, and we are delighted with the focus this brings to our partnership. This Alliance has benefited MSHA in a very tangible way: the Council has made available its on-line Defensive Driving course to every MSHA employee. This is very significant to us - our employees drive 14 million miles a year in the performance of their duties. So far half of our employees have completed the course. And our relationship with the Council will remain close and cooperative in the years to come. MSHA and OSHA are working closely with the Council on plans for the World Safety Congress in Orlando next year, and we have lent MSHA staff members to the Council full-time to help. Make sure to mark your calendars for that event - I can promise you it will be a world-class event you won't want to miss!

And, by the way, we work closely with our sister agency OSHA every day, not just on special events. MSHA and OSHA work together on the ground at worksites that have multi-use facilities where we have overlapping coverage and when there is a question of jurisdiction, such as coal-fired power plants and certain reclamation work and asphalt production on mine property.

This year has been a particularly strong year for our alliance program. Our alliance agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers in January was our first with a labor organization. This is a particularly exciting alliance for MSHA, as it includes a focus on homeland security. We will collaborate on mine and disaster response techniques that involve rescues, recoveries and hazardous materials emergencies - unfortunately, all subjects at the forefront of our national security dialogue. We at MSHA are proud to be working with the IUOE to keep our country safer.

In July, MSHA entered into our second alliance agreement with a labor union when we signed an agreement with the Ironworkers. MSHA and the Ironworkers have enjoyed a mutually-beneficial, close cooperation since 2000, and the formalizing of our alliance will ensure that we can work even closer with each other to preserve and enhance the safety of miners and ironworkers nationwide.

And I want to update you on the progress of our very first alliance - with the National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association. This alliance signaled a new era of cooperation between the aggregates industry and government, and has been an outstanding success. Eighty-six percent of their members today have signed a safety pledge to adopt the goals of reducing injury, illness and death in this nation's mines by the levels that we established as an agency, and they're hitting the mark. We are working together on assembling some best practices to share with the mining industry.

MSHA's spirit of cooperation also extends beyond our borders. Recognized as the world's leader in mine safety and health, MSHA has extended its hand in cooperation and partnership to certain countries to help them improve safety and health in their mining sectors. China, India and the Ukraine have all taken the opportunity to work with us in partnership to make their mining industries safer and more healthful. We are also engaged with Poland, Peru, the Republic of Georgia and others in exploring cooperative efforts in mine safety and health.

In June, Dave Lauriski signed a cooperative agreement with the China's State Administration of Work Safety that broadens our cooperation in the areas of accident emergency response, including mine evacuation, mine rescue, and safe mine recovery. MSHA's expertise in these areas is recognized worldwide, and we are proud that China chose to take advantage of our expertise to help improve the safety and health of their miners. The agreement also includes the effective collection and analysis of mine safety and health data - an area of expertise in which MSHA, the largest repository of mining injury and illness data in the world, is unparalleled.

We are continuing to partner with organizations that put the safety and health of miners on the front burner. We are working with and supporting the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association in promoting the Professional Miner Recognition Program to recognize those miners who have consistently practiced safe mining procedures throughout their careers. Miners who enter the program pledge to serve as positive role models for other miners, and as mentors for new miners, passing on and expanding the culture of prevention and the values of safety and health in the mining profession. Under this program, miners who have worked consecutive years in the industry without experiencing an occupational injury can apply for the Professional Miner Recognition. Those miners who have achieved these benchmarks have shown their dedication to the values of safety and health throughout their careers - and that is an outstanding achievement worthy of recognition!

We clearly have had a busy year. But, you know, every year has been a busy year for MSHA since it was first created. And to commemorate all we've done over the past 25 years, we are publishing a 25-year anniversary publication highlighting our work over the past quarter-century - even as we're looking forward to the 21st century and the opportunities that await us.

As we move into the 21st century, we're changing our internal culture to institutionalize our success. We clearly have something that's working, but we want it to work better.

And so, we have developed our next five-year strategic plan - a plan that will institutionalize these processes that have brought us success and that will allow us to continue to progress. We are planning for success, planning for the future of MSHA and of the mining industry, and planning to achieve our ultimate vision: a vision of zero - zero injuries, zero fatalities, and an end to occupational illness.

The framework of our strategic thinking rests upon six strategic initiatives: We have used a very simple method thus far - a bottom-up approach to mold this process and to gain acceptance, enthusiasm and buy-in from our employees. We've offered every employee in MSHA an opportunity to participate in the strategic planning process, to help us fully define and embrace our mission, our vision and our values. And they have!

MSHA's employees have a clear focus on what we are and what we will become: It was the employees of this Agency who helped us define our mission, vision and core values, and it will be the employees of this agency who carry them out - employees of whom I am very proud! These core values are principles that each and every MSHA employee believes in and lives, every day.

MSHA has moved toward a culture of prevention rather than a culture of reaction. A culture of prevention requires that health and safety become values, not just priorities. Values are the bedrock of behavior - values are the foundation upon which cultures are built. Holding safety as a value means that the expectation of a safe operation does not change, regardless of the fashion of the time or the expediency of the moment. Telling the truth is a value; getting out of trouble is a priority. Living up to your values may conflict with your priorities - and values must prevail. Just as democracy and freedom are enduring values in American culture, safety and health must become enduring values in the mining culture.

Holding safety and health as absolute values in the workplace will be the culture in which we can get to zero. Just imagine - all of the tons of coal, all of the tons of minerals mined every day, every year - and not one miner loses his or her life. Not one miner is injured, not one miner is made ill by the vital work he or she carries out. The numbers are falling every year - have fallen dramatically in just the last three years. We have the know-how, we have the technology, and we have the will to achieve zero. I know we can do it, and so do you. Each of us at MSHA asks that we join together, focus our energy and our knowledge, and ensure that every American worker - just like this guy - goes home safe and healthy every day to his family. This is what we are all about. God bless you and God bless America's miners. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you.