Skip to content
Presentation of Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave D. Lauriski Mine Safety and Health Administration 2004 MINExpo Las Vegas, NV September 28, 2004

GETTING TO ZERO: STAKEHOLDERS ROLE IN MAKING AN INDUSTRY FREE OF FATALITIES AND INJURIES

Good morning. Thank you, Elizabeth, for that kind introduction. I'm very happy to be here at MINExpo to be talking with you today about the common vision that MSHA and the mining industry share.

You might think that the title of this presentation is overly ambitious - Getting to Zero. But I know better. It is not ambitious at all - it is absolutely possible. It is absolutely achievable. First and foremost, I challenge you to have the courage and vision to believe - believe that we can drive injuries and fatalities to zero, and put an end to occupational illness. I know we can do it - and so do you. Together, we will do it.

We have come so far already. Today, there are fewer incidents of injuries, fatalities and occupational illness in mining than ever before. Mining fatalities dropped 34 percent between 2000 and 2003 . . . to the lowest level since statistics were first compiled in 1910. Meanwhile, to the dismay of some, enforcement events have increased by 7 percent. And over the same period, the injury incident rate has dropped 18 percent for the mining industry as a whole. The industry is experiencing its best health and safety record in history. I think that means we are all doing something right.

We have achieved great things together, MSHA and the industry, and we should be proud of our accomplishments! And let me say for the record that the term "industry" is an all-inclusive term, which includes operators, miners, regulators, manufacturers, suppliers, trade and labor organizations, and others.

And it is noteworthy for you to know that we have had remarkable success, working with our stakeholders, in exceeding the health goals we set out under the Government Performance and Results Act. Our goals were to reduce the percentage of coal dust, silica dust, and noise samples that exceed regulatory standards by 5 percent per year. Our most recent sampling results, through July of this year, show that we have met and exceeded these goals by significant amounts: But we cannot rest on any of these laurels, be they safety performance or health performance. We are going to strive to make our goals even more challenging - and we are going to challenge our stakeholders to work with us to meet those new goals.

So how have we come so far? How have we achieved these historic low injury and fatality rates? How have we surpassed our health goals? Working in tandem, we have helped and supported each other in achieving these results with cooperative efforts like safety training, technical assistance, and education programs to help miners, supervisors and employers adopt the safest and healthiest mining practices. We have established active alliances with like-minded organizations, like the NMA and the BCOA, which put the safety and health of miners on the front burners of their agendas.

And we have maintained and improved our firm and fair enforcement efforts. We are doing more and making a difference, as all of the numbers clearly show. 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.

But again, enforcement is only a part of the picture. Some believe it to be solely MSHA's role to drive these numbers down. But that is not the case! MSHA plays a role - an important leadership role - but the ultimate responsibility for health and safety rests with the industry. Working together, we have been able to drive the numbers down to historic lows - and the cooperation between all parties continues to be essential to achieving our shared vision of zero. We are so interconnected today that we all must look for opportunities to multiply our resources, to partner with each other, to learn from each other and help each other.

Our alliance initiative is one of the most effective ways we can join with our stakeholders to carry the cause of safety and health forward. 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.

This year has been a particularly strong year for our alliance efforts. In fact, as many of you know, we signed one this morning with the National Mining Association and the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association - our first alliance in which coal operators are involved. Together, we alliance partners will work to achieve our safety and health goals, collaborate on special programs to control safety and health hazards in coal and metal/nonmetal mines and to eliminate fatalities, injuries and occupational illness in the nation's mines. We are also going to work together to develop and implement a cooperative strategy to address drug use and abuse among the nation's miners - an issue that is increasingly recognized as a serious threat to the safety and health of miners in this country. This is an exciting alliance for us and for the mining industry, and I am looking forward to seeing the first results soon.

And our other alliances aren't only with trade associations. Our alliance agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers in January of this year was our first with a labor organization. This is a particularly momentous 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 and mines healthier and safer.

Two months ago we entered into our second alliance agreement with a labor union when we signed an agreement with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. 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 last year, at the National Safety Congress in Chicago in September, we signed an alliance with the National Safety Council, an organization that typically has not been engaged with the mining community. In working with the executive management of the National Safety Council, we recognized that both of our organizations share a passion for doing everything we can to keep all workers safe and prevent all occupational accidents. This agreement focused on our long-standing relationship and helps us develop safety and health programs for the mining industry. In the alliance, we are looking at ways to enhance participation of the NSC's Mining and Minerals Resources Section in safety and health outreach to the industry, collaborate on developing and conducting technical sessions at events and conferences, and working together to present clear and accurate statistical information on mining and minerals operations in the United States.

As you can see, we have a strong, vibrant alliance initiative that produces real safety and health results throughout the mining community. I challenge you, as representatives of the mining industry, to actively participate in any alliance initiatives if you are a member of an alliance partnership. Working together, we can accomplish much more than if we work separately.

MSHA extends the hand of partnership and cooperation beyond formal alliances, across the spectrum of the mining community. I am very proud of our work with and support of the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association to promote 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 the Professional Miner 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! In less than two short months, more than 1,300 miners have applied for recognition under the program - 1,000 of them for the highest level of recognition offered: platinum. This high level of participation and high level of achievement tells us that the value of safety and health has taken hold at the very grassroots of the mining community, and that miners are taking responsibility for safety and health in their workplaces. They have adopted a work behavior that ensures that they work accident-free and that their fellow miners remain accident free.

I call on each and every one of you to promote active participation of your organization and that of your employees in various Holmes initiatives, including the Professional Miner Program. Recognizing the stellar performance of Professional Miners will encourage more miners to strive for this recognition and will make your operations even stronger.

And speaking of recognition, as you know we just recognized 8 mines for their safe working record this past year at the Sentinels of Safety Awards Breakfast. To qualify for these prestigious awards, they had to work a full calendar year without a single lost-time injury. We had some great news to announce there as well: beginning with next year's awards (for 2004's safety performance) we are expanding the Sentinels of Safety Program by adding a Metal/Non-Metal Mills category and a Coal Processing category, bringing the number of categories to 10. The 10 categories will also each have a large and small group winner, expanding the program to 20 categories.

By the way... if anyone doubts that zero injuries can be achieved by the mining industry for a full year, consider this fact. Based on 2003 injury data, and using the new award criteria, 60% percent of mines, mills, and preparation plants in the United States would have qualified for the Sentinels Award presented this year (for 2003's safety performance) by working the year without a single lost-time injury, with many not even experiencing a single reportable injury! Just think about the significance of that accomplishment! More than nine thousand mining operations around the country with thousands of men and women doing their jobs the right way - the safe way - every hour of every day. Getting to ZERO means going the extra mile, but the industry as a whole is more than half-way there, and the goal is in sight!

Let me reiterate how important the Sentinels of Safety awards are. Companies who go the extra mile, who make the extra effort, who ensure that their operations are safe for their workers and who demonstrate a commitment to zero occupational injuries deserve to be recognized by MSHA and the NMA, and by their peers. They are shining examples to the rest of the mining community that they can run a safe, healthful and profitable mining operation. They show us, each and every year, that we can indeed get to zero, that we can achieve our shared vision - the vision throughout the industry that business can be conducted, that mines can be operated without a single life lost, without a single miner sick or injured.

MSHA is proud to work with these mining operations that have moved into a true culture of prevention. These operations have internalized the value of safety and health, and each and every day live the concept of prevention - they act before an accident happens, rather than after. And the best practices they have developed to make this happen are valuable lessons for other mining companies - and for MSHA, to help the mining community get to zero.

MSHA is continually searching for new ways to reach out with new information, with best practices, with innovative educational efforts to help the mining community. For example, as you will hear today in your committee meetings, we will be briefing you and soliciting your participation in a new risk assessment initiative: Stop, Look, Analyze and Manage, or SLAM. We will reach out to operators, to miners, to contractors at mining operations to remind them that risk assessment is a critical part of each job and each task. Many accidents that happen could have been avoided had a proper risk assessment been conducted to determine hazards and how to control them. We will provide tools such as discussion packages, training at our Mine Health and Safety Academy and via DVD and webcasts, posters and other materials that will reach out to the industry. The materials will also be available on our web site to reach an even wider audience.

The SLAM initiative is the first MSHA initiative that focuses attention on not only on environmental hazards but also on behavioral factors in maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. I encourage you to fully embrace and internalize SLAM, and, by so doing, begin or accelerate a true culture of prevention: looking at potential accidents before they happen and actively moving to correct or control the situation.

And we will continue to reach out to the mining industry - to our stakeholders - through our education and outreach initiatives so that we can share and pool our knowledge and experience to make mining the safest industry in the country.

As I said at the beginning of our talk, we clearly have something that is working. The injury and fatality rates show that. But as we move into the 21st century, we must change our internal culture to institutionalize our external successes. While we clearly have something that's working, we want it to work better.

To solidify our successes internally, we have developed our next five-year strategic plan - a plan that will institutionalize the processes that have brought us to this point and that will give us the framework necessary for us to continue to make progress. We are planning for success, planning for the future, 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 bottom-up approach to mold this process and to gain acceptance, enthusiasm and buy-in from our employees. Every MSHA employee has had an opportunity to participate in the strategic planning process, to help fully define and embrace our mission, our vision and our values. And they have done it!

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

So, as you can see, we - MSHA and the mining community - have much to be proud of. Together we have accomplished great things. Together we have made historic advances in safety and health in this nation's mines. We should never lose sight of how far we have come, and we should continue to take pride in all we have accomplished.

But we must not let our pride in our accomplishments blind us to the work that still has to be done. How do we get to zero? How do MSHA and the industry - together - how do we achieve our vision, which is so tantalizingly close?

I want to challenge you, to challenge all in this industry, to step forward and take some concentrated action to move us further along toward our vision. We have seen that it can be done - we honored 8 companies this morning for their achievements in doing just that! These companies - the Sentinels of Safety - set aggressive goals to get their injuries down to zero, and they met those goals! Every company can do that - I challenge each mine operator to learn from today's honorees and emulate their performance.

And we can learn from the 9,000-plus mining operations that will complete this year without a single lost-time injury - many of them without experiencing any injuries. The employees of those operations believe in ZERO, and they know how to achieve it! They truly are leaders in the mining business, and provide clear evidence that our goal of ZERO can be achieved, and NOT in the distant futurebut rather in the near term.

I challenge miners to actively participate in improving the safety and health of their workplaces. Become members of the Holmes Safety Association, register for and encourage your mines' employees to register for certification as a professional miner! Reach out to your colleagues, share your experiences and your best practices. Look out for your fellow miners, mentor the new ones, teach them good safety and health skills along with good mining skills. Everyone benefits when mines are safer and healthier places to work

I spoke of our alliance initiative earlier - MSHA extends the hand of cooperation to every segment of the mining industry. Become active in the alliance we signed this morning. Develop partnerships with each other and with MSHA to pool knowledge and resources and educate yourselves on what is working and what can be done better.

Getting to zero means more than compliance with the law. Compliance with the law is the minimum standard - industry leaders go beyond compliance to prevention, demonstrating a heart and soul commitment to a comprehensive safety and health plan. They look at all factors that could impact the safety and health environment of a mining or associated operation, all factors - including behavior - that can impact the safety and health of each individual working in those operations. The vast majority of incidents occurring in the mining industry involve behavioral issues as the root cause. It is time to look beyond the "easy" work of controlling hazards and start looking at the hard work of changing attitudes and behaviors about safety and health. Begin to study and understand the injury and illness patterns in your operation to look at how behaviors can be modified to reduce and eliminate them. This is an area of safety and health management that offers great promise in the art and science of incident prevention.

And finally, I challenge the mining industry to come forward with your ideas about how we can join together to finish driving our numbers to zero. You have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with us - you do the work, you are on the ground, you see opportunities to improve your daily operations. We are all interconnected - and we need you to help us help you with your creativity and your expertise.

As long as one miner loses his or her life, as long as one miner is injured, as long as one miner suffers from occupational disease, we have work to do. We have come this far together, and we still have a distance to go. But the distance is smaller every day, and we get closer and closer every day to that shining vision that we all share: every miner, at the end of every shift, every day - safe and healthy and home with family.

Thank you.