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Remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary David G. Dye
2005 World Safety and Health Congress
Orlando, Florida
Tuesday, September 20, 2004

"Leadership in Safety and Health"


Thank you, Pat, for that kind introduction. I'm delighted to be here today to talk about what leadership in safety and health means to the Mine Safety and Health Administration - or, as we call it in shorthand - MSHA.

     MSHA's sole mission is to protect and promote the safety and health of miners in the United States - the only Federal safety and health agency that is dedicated solely to one industry. MSHA develops and enforces mandatory safety and health standards that apply to all mines in the United States; helps mine operators comply with the laws, rules and regulations enforced by MSHA; and makes available technical, educational and other types of assistance to miners and mine operators. MSHA also works cooperatively with industry, labor, and other Federal and state agencies to improve safety and health conditions in America's mining workplaces, and to drive toward our common goal of achieving zero injuries, illness and fatalities in our country's mines.

     In 1978, the first year that MSHA operated under the new Mine Act, 242 miners died in mining accidents. Last year, 55 miners died in mining accidents. This is the lowest number since mining accidents have been recorded in the United States. That is a 77 percent decrease - one that we are justly proud of. We are working hard to stay on track for another record year this year.

     For MSHA, leadership in safety and health means not only enforcing the laws, but helping our regulated community understand and obey them. While enforcement is a critical component of our work, it is clear that Congress intended that MSHA also use its resources to prevent injuries and deaths by proactive means. In recent years, MSHA has strongly encouraged the American mining community to join in a number of cooperative programs aimed at reducing safety and health problems.

     We have a strong and active Alliance program, in which we work closely with groups from the mining industry - trade associations, other safety and health organizations and unions - in formal partnerships called Alliances to combine our resources and leverage our joint expertise and experiences to find safety and health solutions to industry issues and educate miners and operators on safe and healthful mining practices.

     MSHA also strongly emphasizes the education and training of miners and managers in mine safety and health requirements, as well as using compliance assistance to reduce injuries and fatalities.

     MSHA also places a special emphasis on helping small mines. Approximately one-half of the 15,000 mines in the United States have 5 employees or fewer. Many of these small mines do not have the resources to have sophisticated health and safety programs and do not provide much or any training beyond the minimum required by law. MSHA has a special operational unit that works exclusively with these small mines to help them comply with the law. MSHA's Small Mines Office does not conduct enforcement activities or issue citations for violations. It focuses solely on prevention of injuries and fatalities.

     Sometimes mine operators and miners need special technical assistance to help control the hazards at their workplaces. MSHA has a staff of engineers, industrial hygienists and other specialists who can provide technical assistance and suggest solutions to difficult mine safety problems.

     Besides working directly with individual mining operations, MSHA's technical specialists conduct investigations at mine sites, perform laboratory studies, and perform safety- related tests of mining equipment. They also provide special on-site technical assistance during mine emergencies. This technical assistance has proven invaluable in helping mining operations overcome hazards and make mining workplaces safer and healthier places.

     We also have strong cooperative relationships with many other Federal government agencies as well, including our sister agencies of OSHA and NIOSH. For example, we will be partnering with NIOSH in the coming year to jointly produce a DVD that will cover the risks, hazards and protection from electricity on mental/nonmetal mine sites. Several of our industry Alliance partners are also expected to be involved, as well as other industry stakeholders.

     All of these components combine to form what we call our Triangle of Success: enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance, with a strong underpinning of compliance assistance supporting these three activities. And our Triangle of Success has indeed been successful. Mining fatalities [those deaths occurring on mine property that result from mining activity] dropped 35 percent between 2000 and 2004 . . . to the lowest level since statistics were first compiled in 1910. Over the same period, the injury incident rate has dropped 22 percent for the mining industry as a whole. Clearly we still have work to do, but we have indeed accomplished much already. America's mines are among the safest mines in the world.

     We want other countries with mining industries to share in our success at reducing injuries, illness and fatalities in their mines. For example, we have a very strong relationship with China's State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS). China and the United States have been working together now for three years, since we signed our four-year agreement in October 2002. It has been a productive relationship for both China and the United States, and I know that the remaining year of our agreement will be equally as productive and beneficial for mine safety and health in China. Some of you already heard about our productive relationship with China during yesterday's session.

     While we work closely with China to help them make their mines safe and healthful workplaces, we also have close relationships with many other countries to share expertise and ideas on mine safety and health. Last year, for example, we hosted 6 delegations totaling more than 100 visitors at our Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia. They were from states of the former Soviet Union, including Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. There were also delegations from China and Taiwan.

     Thus far this year we have hosted delegations from China and Peru. Among the subjects discussed were the setting up and judging of mine rescue competitions for the Chinese visitors, and various topics of mine safety for the Peruvian delegation, including ventilation, drilling, combustible gas control and emergency plans. Currently there is a group of visitors from Ukraine at our Mine Academy who are studying ventilation.

     We look forward to keeping up our active engagement with the international mining community and continuing to build productive relationships for many years to come.

     So I have talked with you this morning about what leadership in safety and health means to MSHA: fulfilling our mandate to reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities in America's mines, and to make those mines safer and healthier places in which to work. We do that through a combination of enforcing our nation's mining laws, rules and regulations; providing education and training to America's mining community; and providing technical support to mining operations to solve safety and health problems. We support those three activities with compliance assistance - helping the mining industry understand and comply with the laws, rules and regulations we are charged with enforcing. All of those elements combine to help us lead the way - along with the mining community - to the future that we all look forward to: a future in which every miner goes home safe and healthy to family and friends, every shift of every day.

     Thank you for your attention this morning.