Deputy Assistant Secretary-Operations
Mine Safety and Health Administration
South Central Joint Mine Health and Safety Conference
March 22, 2005
San Antonio, TX
Good Morning. Thanks for that fine introduction, Eddie! I am certainly delighted to be here, and delighted to have the opportunity to speak to such a broad spectrum of folks involved in the mining industry here in Texas, and to join in welcoming you to this conference. I am impressed to see so many folks here from so many different parts of the mining industry - miners, operators, state and federal government inspectors and other officials, trainers - really, the entire spectrum of folks involved in mining and supporting industries. I'm glad you could all make it.
You know, I've been a miner all my adult life. I have seen first-hand the importance of mining in America. I'd like to just throw some numbers at you today to put into perspective the critical importance of what you do to the American economy. In 2004, preliminary figures from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Energy Information Administration show that 46,414 pounds of minerals were consumed per capita in this country. Nearly half of that amount - just over 21,000 pounds, was sand, gravel and stone! Just think of all the roads and buildings built with just those materials!
Mining is one of the powerhouse engines that drive our economy. Can you imagine life without those 46,000 pounds of minerals? No telephones. No jewelry (that would make my wife very unhappy!) No medical equipment. No crucial machines or technology to move us through daily life. No new highways or roads - no new buildings. Without the output of the mining industry, the U.S. economy - and the world's economy - would be paralyzed.
And it is not insignificant that Texas supplied a significant portion of those mineral commodities that are so vital to our economy: Texas ranked fourth in the dollar value of nonfuel minerals produced in the United States, producing $2.4 billion worth of commodities such as cement, crushed stone, sand and gravel, lime and salt. You sure do things in a big way here in Texas, and I admire you for it!
We at MSHA recognize the importance of the mining industry. We have a long and proud history of helping make the miners of this country safer and healthier, and I am proud to be a part of that tradition. I'm proud to stand up here today to represent MSHA and to tell you of the good things we are doing with you to make this industry an even safer and healthier place to work.
Since I'm here from MSHA in Washington, I know that many of you are curious about what's happening at our headquarters. As you all know, this is a time of transition for MSHA. David Dye is the acting Assistant Secretary while we are waiting for a new Assistant Secretary, and he's doing a great job. He is fully and completely committed, as are all of us at MSHA, to staying our course and continuing our drive - with you - to zero fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the mines of this great nation. We all believe that no miner should have to give his or her life to provide us with the raw materials we need to fuel our economy - and we are all continuing our hard work to make sure that each and every miner goes home safe and healthy at the end of every shift, every day.
In staying the course, we are continuing to do what works - and we are looking at ways to take what is working and make it better. I don't think anyone would argue that we - and by "we," I mean MSHA and the mining industry, working together - have made great strides in safety and health in the mining industry over the past few years. Mining fatalities dropped 34 percent between 2000 and 2003, and in 2004 the mining industry achieved another milestone year, with the lowest level of fatalities ever recorded. Today, there are fewer incidents of injuries, fatalities and occupational illness in mining than ever before - working together we have made that achievement possible. We know that we can continue this downward trend, and we all know here today that we can reach our ultimate goal of zero.
In fact, working together is what works. Over the past few years, you have seen MSHA move from a culture of confrontation to a culture of cooperation, and we are all proud of the results: more miners every year returning home safely to their families. MSHA and the mining industry have come together in our common goal of zero fatalities and injuries, and an end to occupational illness in the mining industry, and we are cooperating to achieve that goal.
One of the centerpieces of our culture of cooperation is our strong, active Alliance initiative. MSHA has joined with a number of like-minded organizations who are committed to the cause of safety and health in the mining workplace. 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. Some of the names in our Alliance initiative will be familiar to you - the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, which is our oldest Alliance. The IMA-NA, the National Safety Council, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Ironworkers Union, BCOA-NMA, just to mention a few. We are proud to be partners with these organizations in helping lead the way to safer, healthier mining workplaces and safer, healthier miners in this country.
We are also working closely with the mining industry to help operators understand and comply with the rules and regulations that apply to mining. We all know that mining is a complicated - and, let's say it - often dangerous business. We at MSHA have committed to helping the mining industry understand the rules, helping operators comply with the rules, and helping them understand root causes of accidents so that they can be avoided. I hope many of you have had positive and productive dealings with our compliance assistance programs - and especially with our Small Mines Office, which we created specifically to help smaller operations that might not otherwise have the personnel resources to have a full-fledged safety program. Since January 2003, the Small Mines Office has helped some 2600 mine operators develop written safety and health plans tailored to fit their mining operations - and as a result, the small mine operators assisted by the Small Mines office have fatality rates of four times less that those not assisted by the program. Additionally, injury rates at small mines assisted by our SMO decreased from 3.02 in 2003 to 1.77 in 2004 - or in other words, a decrease of 41 percent. I'm sure you will agree that is a significant achievement - and a powerful statement of what we can accomplish when we work together.
And outstanding safety and health performance at smaller mining operations can now be recognized through the oldest established safety awards program in the American mining industry. As you know, MSHA, in cooperation with the National Mining Association, recognizes companies with outstanding safety performance every year with the Sentinels of Safety award. I understand that tomorrow there will be a Sentinels luncheon to recognize the safety achievements of 121 companies here in the South Central region. Congratulations to all of you!
We have made some significant changes this year in the criteria for determining a Sentinels of Safety winner. I'm happy to tell you that many more operations will be eligible for future recognition of their outstanding safety efforts.
Beginning with the 2004 awards, which will be presented later this year for work performed in 2004, the Sentinels program will undergo some major changes - changes which will enhance the program, and help drive us toward our shared vision, a vision where no lives are lost or injuries sustained. Over the past two years, MSHA and the National Mining Association worked hand-in-hand to develop these new criteria.
Highlighting the changes, two new categories are being added - metal and nonmetal mills and coal processing facilities, and each category will be divided into large and small mine groups, for a total of 20 categories.
Here are the criteria for eligibility:
A mining operation must:
-- have reported employment data to MSHA for each calendar quarter in which it was active during the calendar year;
-- have not experienced a work injury that resulted in a fatality, permanent disability, days away from work, or days of restricted work activity;
-- have a total incident rate not greater than the national average; and
-- have accumulated at least 4,000 injury-free employee-hours during the calendar year.
Based on 2003 injury data, 50 percent of mines, mills and preparation plants in the United States would have qualified for the Sentinels awards presented last year 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 7,000 mining operations around the country with thousands of men and women employees doing their jobs the right way - the safe and healthy way - every hour of every day. People who think that attaining ZERO fatalities in the mining injury should consider these facts!
If you want more information about the Sentinels of Safety Program and how it might apply to your mining operation, please visit our web site at www.msha.gov.
Speaking of useful information about the Sentinels of Safety on our web site, I also want remind you about the Stakeholder Best Practices section of our web site. These best practices were assembled by teams of industry representatives who won a Sentinels of Safety award or were runners-up in their categories - the best of the best, those who are working safely every day of every year. They've figured out how to do it right - and they want to share what they've learned about safety and health with the rest of the mining industry. There is some great information there, applicable across the entire spectrum of the industry - I strongly encourage you to take a look.
Recognition is all about encouraging good safety behaviors and practices throughout the mining industry, in each and every mining workplace. While we give Sentinels of Safety awards to recognize those mining and associated operations that have outstanding safety records, we also want to recognize individual miners who make up that population of safe workers in the industry. The outstanding safety records of the Sentinels of Safety winners are set by individual miners who work safely every day, who do it the right way day in and day out - often for many, many years.
Many of you may know that last August MSHA, in cooperation with the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association, announced the Professional Miner Program, which recognizes individual miners who have dedicated their careers to working safely in this nation's mining industry. The program recognizes miners who have worked a specific number of years without experiencing a reportable or lost time injury with the designation of "Professional Miner." In fact, I understand that today we have in the audience one of the very first professional miners designated last August -- Elaine Haussecker, from TXI. I'm glad to see you here, Elaine, and thank you for your contributions to mining!
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. They are living examples every day of exactly the kinds of safety behaviors we want everyone to emulate.
As leaders and role models, 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 mentors, role models and examples of how miners can and should behave in the workplace.
Right now, 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. We're also studying ways of recognizing employers that sponsor Professional Miners. By supporting the Professional Miner Program and embracing its ideals, you will make an immediate and real difference in the safety performance of your operation.
The entire South Central district, encompassing the six states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, have a total of 2,438 professional miners - about a quarter of the total number of Professional Miners throughout the country.
And, just as a matter of state pride, you should know that Texas is number 2 in the country in terms of numbers of Professional Miners, with 1,010 miners recognized. Kentucky has the most Professional Miners, with 1,146. I would encourage you all here to get busy and apply and put Texas into that number one slot that is so close!
All joking aside, the Professional Miner Program has grown amazingly quickly. Today, we mark a real milestone - we will be recognizing the 10,000th miner to receive the designation of Professional Miner.
I am proud to be here today to recognize L.C. Richards of Rockdale, Texas, as the 10,000th miner to be recognized as a "Professional Miner." Mr. Richards, will you please join me here on stage?
Although recently retired after 44 years in the mining industry, Mr. Richards remains active in the industry. Before his retirement, he was a dragline operator at Alcoa's Sandow surface coal mine in Rockdale, and throughout his career he has been active in ensuring that he and his fellow miners worked safely. In fact, he was so active in safety issues that during his 44 years in mining, he never had a lost-time injury. This man did it the right way - the safe way - every day for 44 years!
Mr. Richards, I most heartily congratulate on you on your remarkable achievements in safety over the years! I know you will be giving a presentation on mining safety later in the conference, and I strongly urge everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to and learn from a man who knows how to do it right!
.... presentation ceremony ....
Thank you, everyone, for your attention today.