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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Dave D. Lauriski at
Kick-Off of Anti-Drug and Alcohol Abuse Initiative
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Fankfort, Kentucky

"Keeping Drugs and Alcohol Out of America's Mines"

Good morning. Thank you, Secretary Wilcher, for that kind introduction. And thanks to all of you for being here with us today to discuss such an important issue. I know that you are aware that drug and alcohol use and abuse in the nation's mining operations is a significant problem. Toxicology reports from recent fatal mining accidents have shown the presence of drugs or alcohol in the system of accident victims.

In addition, our state counterparts around the country - and here in Kentucky - have indicated to us, and to each other, that drug and alcohol use in this nation's mines represents a significant barrier to improved safety performance.

This is simply unacceptable for America's mining industry, especially since we have experienced record lows in mining fatalities and injuries for the last three years. Between 2000 and the end of 2003, mining fatalities have dropped 34 percent. The rate of fatal incidents dropped by 28 percent during that time, putting it at the lowest level in recorded history.

In that same period, the all-injury incident rate dropped 18 percent. Consequently, the mining industry is experiencing its best safety record in history.

But accidents continue to occur. Miners continue to suffer injuries and are still, too often, victims of fatal accidents.

While we have made outstanding progress toward our ultimate goal, we still have far to go. One miner injured, one miner killed, one miner made ill is one miner too many. We are now down to the most difficult challenge of all - dealing with the behavior side of safety. Getting a better understanding of the root causes of accidents - like safety behaviors - will push us ever closer to zero injuries, illnesses and fatalities in this nation's mining industry.

And we believe the public education and outreach initiative we are launching here today will help the mining community deal with one portion of the behavioral side of safety and health in our country's mines: the problem of drug and alcohol use and abuse in the mining workplace.

Using drugs or alcohol at a mine site can impair a miner's judgment significantly at a time when he or she needs to be alert and aware. Even prescription medications can affect a worker's perceptions and reaction time.

Mining is a complicated and sometimes hazardous occupation, and a clear focus on the work at hand is a crucial component of workplace safety.

Everyone who works in a mine should understand that drug or alcohol-impaired co-workers not only endanger themselves, but their colleagues as well.

Drug or alcohol impairment in the mining workplace puts the safety of all workers at risk. One wrong move can lead to disaster - or turn a routine problem into a bigger disaster. And so we are joining forces with Kentucky today to begin this important outreach and education effort to the mining community.

This is a very high priority for MSHA. In fact, today I am assigning a senior MSHA safety and health official to a new position here in Kentucky - director of the Southern Appalachia Region, based in Pikeville, Kentucky. This person is Ray McKinney, our current Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health. Ray has 34 years of experience in the mining industry and MSHA. He is a person I know who believes in this cause and the right person to advance our efforts toward a drug and alcohol-free mining workplace. I know he is familiar to many in the mining industry in the Southern Appalachia Region.

In this assignment, Ray will direct MSHA's accident prevention efforts, including enforcement, compliance assistance, and working with our other programs, education and training and technical support. He will also lead our efforts on substance use and abuse in the workplace, focusing primarily on Eastern Kentucky, Southern West Virginia, and Southwest Virginia.

MSHA and Kentucky officials are planning a joint Southern Appalachia (Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia) Summit on Drug Abuse in early December here in Kentucky. The Summit will include representatives from the mining industry, labor, public health experts, and Federal, state and local governments who deal with this critical issue. We expect a great deal of creative discussion and problem-solving at this summit, and we hope to see many of you there.

MSHA is also working closely with a number of stakeholders in the mining industry. We have a strong and active alliance program, in which we have joined forces with like-minded organizations - including the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Ironworkers, Boilermakers and Carpenters Unions, and the National Mining Association as well as others - who are strongly committed to advancing the cause of safety and health in the mining industry.

I know this issue is of vital importance to them as well. I'm confident their partnership with us will help us all move forward in addressing substance use and abuse in the mines. We are continuing some outreach and education efforts we have already begun. For example, in cooperation with the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association, we announced the Professional Miner Program earlier this year. This is a program to recognize miners who have worked a specific number of years without experiencing a reportable or lost time injury with the designation of "Professional Miner."

Professional Miners represent the very best in our industry because they make safety and health values as they go about their daily routine. These are the kind of people who identify and correct potential hazards, who wear their personal protective equipment and who look out for the safety of their fellow workers.

Professional Miners have the potential to influence the safety and health performance of the American mining industry and, just as important, the way miners and the mining profession is seen through the eyes of every member of the public. A Professional Miner is someone quite special to our industry and to this country.

Professional miners are a vital part of this substance use and abuse outreach initiative. The Professional Miner Program not only encourages more miners to work safely, it also asks the miners who apply and who are designated as Professional Miners to pledge themselves to help ensure an alcohol and drug-free mining workplace. Professional Miners are mentors, role models and examples of how miners can and should behave in the workplace.

All of you here can be very proud that Kentucky leads the nation in the number of Professional Miners who have applied and been recognized. In fact, out of the 3,560 miners that have applied and been recognized as Professional Miners over the past two months, 635 are miners in Kentucky - more than any other state. These are the miners who will help us in our effort to drive injuries, illnesses and fatalities to zero, and they will help us in our work with other miners to keep Kentucky's mines drug and alcohol-free.

Professional Miner applicants are here with us today, and it will be my pleasure to recognize them as Professional Miners right now. Some of you know Paris Charles and Elizabeth Bush from the Kentucky Department of Mines and Licensing - they each have distinguished careers in the mining industry. We also have miners here from the Dodge Hill Mine, Lone Mountain Processing, Blue Grass Coal Company, and Grand Eagle Mining - Patriot Mine. Each and every one of them will serve as an example for other miners to follow. As your name is called, please join me up here.

Thank you, Professional Miners, for your commitment to safety and health and for your achievements in your personal safety. Go and lead your fellow miners to a safer, healthier, drug- and alcohol-free workplace!

Once again I want to thank Governor Fletcher, Secretary Wilcher, Commissioner Bush, Paris Charles and Director Lovely for their commitment and support to this joint effort. Although we are powerful separately, we are unbeatable together. I know we will achieve great things as we move forward.

Thank you for being here and for supporting our nation's mining community.