Skip to content
Remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary David G. Dye
2005 National Safety and Health Congress
Orlando, Florida
Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Thank you, Dan, for that kind introduction. I'm honored to be able to be here and talk to you about my favorite subject - mine safety and health - and equally delighted to share this stage with the heads of our sister agencies - OSHA's Jonathan Snare and NIOSH's Dr. John Howard.

     I am also awed at the impressive safety and health expertise I see as I look out over this audience. I thank you for coming today, and I thank you for dedicating your lives to keeping workers safe and healthy no matter where they work!

     We have been very busy since we last came together in New Orleans last September. I know the terrible tragedy that has since befallen the city weighs heavily on the mind of each and every one of us here, and I know that all of us are doing what we can to alleviate the suffering and protect the workers who are trying to help rescue and rebuild the devastated areas. Now more than ever your expertise is critical to the health and safety of this nation.

     MSHA is doing its part to help the relief efforts as well. We have provided our East Coast mobile command and communications vehicle and other equipment to OSHA to help support field teams doing hurricane-related work. Additionally, MSHA employees have volunteered for deployment to the Gulf Coast to assist in relief and recovery efforts.

     MSHA has been very busy since last year's Congress. I'd like to take the time to update you now on what we've accomplished, and to tell you what's in store for the coming year.

     The mining industry as a whole is experiencing a resurgence around the country, in all sectors. The American coal mining industry produced more than 1 billion tons of coal last year, and demand for it remains high. Overall U.S. coal consumption continues on an upward trend and, according to industry projections, will rise 2.3% in 2005, with the U.S. continuing to consume more coal than it produces. Like coal, the demand for materials produced by the metal and non-metal sector is also generally on the rise. The estimated value of minerals mined in the United States in 2004 increased by 13%, to an estimated $418 billion. Now that's a lot of rock and metal! Once again construction led the demand for minerals in the U.S. economy. Housing starts were up 4% in 2004, while the value of new highway construction increased by about 5%. And still more increases in the demand for mined materials are expected as the economy continues to strengthen.

     Without safe and healthy miners, those accomplishments wouldn't be possible. Working with industry, we take our mission very seriously - to send every miner home safe and healthy, at the end of every shift, every day. 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."

     As Secretary Chao said in the opening session today, the mining industry and MSHA have been very successful in making and keeping America's miners safe and healthy on the job. For four years in a row, mining fatalities have declined, to the record low level of 55 in 2004. The simple fact is that today there are fewer incidents of injuries and fewer fatalities in mining than ever before. Let me repeat that astonishing accomplishment: in 2004, for the fourth year in a row, the mining industry achieved its safest year on record - the safest four years in all recorded mining history in the United States.

     But we're not resting on our laurels. While the number of fatalities has been dropping steadily, the rate of decline has slowed. We must redouble our efforts to drive those numbers to zero.

     MSHA and the industry have worked long and hard together to take care of many of the obvious physical hazards - the ones that could be fixed with better engineering, better equipment, and better technology. We're now down to the hardest thing of all to fix - the human aspect of safety.

     We all want everyone to make the right safety decisions, to make the right safety choices. In fact, the question of how to create a culture of safety and health in the mining industry that motivates everyone to make the right safety choices is taking on greater and greater importance as we look at the root causes of accidents and fatalities in the mines today.

     The vast majority of accidents and injuries occurring in today's mining industry involve human factors - human decisions and choices - as the root cause. It's time for all of us to step up now and start looking at the hard work of changing attitudes, behaviors and habits about safety and health. In order to get to the next level - to make it down that final slope toward zero - we must address the difficult questions of what motivates and drives people's decisions and choices about safety and health in the workplace.

     Looking at the root causes of accidents is about learning why people make the decisions they make, so that we can use that information to help others make the right decisions. It is not about assessing blame, nor is it about disciplining workers for past actions. It is positive, proactive and preventative.

     This summer, MSHA began an enhanced summer safety and health initiative, called "Make the Right Decision," which focuses on helping mine operators, miners and miner representatives observe and understand safety cultures and choices that lead to accidental injuries and fatalities, and helps them to motivate miners and managers to make the right decisions and choose the safe way rather than the short way.

     The initiative promotes a risk assessment program for miners called SLAM (which stands for Stop, Look, Analyze and Manage) and a risk management program for mine management called SMART (for Stop, Measure, Act, Review and Train). These programs can be used separately or together, depending on the needs of the individual operation. They can also be used to complement existing risk assessment or risk management programs that may already be in place. Please visit our web site for more details.

     We have received a great deal of positive feedback on this outreach effort from the mining community, with a number of companies adopting safety and health programs that focus on the human factors - the safety decisions and choices that are made in the mining workplace. Although this outreach campaign has had an extended rollout over the summer, we expect these concepts to be incorporated into our regular enforcement and compliance assistance activities. In fact, we are developing a course for new and journeyman inspectors to teach them the theory and concepts behind SLAM and SMART. These courses will be taught at the Mine Academy in Beckley, West Virginia and will also be offered to industry personnel.

     Another facet to the focus on human factors in safety and health management is the growing concern about substance use and abuse in the mining workplace. MSHA's level of concern about drug and alcohol use and abuse in the mines remains high, especially with the recognition of the exponential growth of methamphetamine abuse throughout Appalachia and other mining areas around the country.

     Many of you may remember last year's substance use and abuse outreach and education initiative, "Keeping America's Mines Drug and Alcohol Free." We are continuing that initiative, building on the momentum created by a tri-state conference in December 2004 sponsored by Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. We are continuing our work with state officials, the mining industry, DOL's Working Partners Program and other interested parties to reach out and educate the mining community on the dangers of drug and alcohol use and abuse in the country's mines, and we have many projects to do that in the works, including: a video detailing the dangers of substance use and abuse done by a committee of MSHA and state officials; resource kits for mining operators; substance use and abuse segments in training activities and conferences, including a substance use and abuse education component in our state grantee requirements; and working with other organizations and industry sectors outside the mining industry to exchange ideas and experiences on dealing with substance use and abuse in dangerous and complex workplaces.

     We will also shortly be publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on substance abuse to gather information about the scope of drug and alcohol use in the mining workplace and suggestions on how to deal with the problem. This indeed is a serious issue, and one that MSHA is seriously interested in addressing.

     We continue to be committed to our active compliance assistance program as well. From our Small Mines Office and our Educational Field Services Office that offer operators and miners help in identifying potential safety and health hazards and improving their safety and health management systems, to the many compliance assistance tools we offer on our web site, to the advice and assistance that our Office of Technical Support offers the mining industry, MSHA works with miners and operators to increase their understanding of and help them to comply with the laws, rules and regulations that MSHA enforces.

     Speaking of our Office of Technical Support, we are pursing a number of interesting and exciting technological developments in mine safety. For example, we continue to work on a proximity protection device for continuous mining machines. Over the next few months we will be observing how it performs in the field to protect miners from being injured or killed by continuous mining machines. This device represents a major step forward in underground machine safety for the mining industry. We are looking forward to the day we can announce its first deployment.

     We are also cooperating with the U.S. Navy in testing the utility of a small robot for mine rescue applications. Measuring only 27 inches long by 16 inches wide by 7 inches high and weighing in at about 40 pounds, the robot lent to us by the Navy was originally designed for military intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance. MSHA's Technical Support has been testing the iRobot Packbot Scout design in mines for potential use in mine emergency operations. The plan is to insert a robot into a mine through a borehole to obtain video, audio, and gas readings from mines that have experienced fires, explosions, or inundations. This will provide MSHA and other stakeholders with invaluable information about the mine environment before anyone sends human teams to begin rescue and recovery operations. This is a particularly exciting example of interagency cooperation, and the creative use of technology that can have unconventional applications.

     We have strong cooperative relationships with many other Federal government agencies as well, including our sister agencies of OSHA and NIOSH. As I mentioned yesterday, 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 metal/nonmetal mine sites. Several of our industry Alliance partners are also expected to be involved, as well as other industry stakeholders. We have worked with OSHA to train our inspectors on issues related to tree-cutting and clearing on mine property and how best to use each agency's expertise when inspecting synfuel plants.

     Cooperation - whether with other Federal agencies or with our wide range of stakeholders - has allowed us to leverage our resources and accomplish many things we might not have been able to without our partners. MSHA's active Alliance program is a fine example of the benefits we and our stakeholders derive from working together and combining our resources to better serve the mining community.

     In fact, in a few minutes I will be delighted to sign a renewal agreement of our Alliance with the National Safety Council - one of our most productive and exciting Alliances. I don't want to steal Alan's thunder, so I will merely say that I am happy to be here to sign this important renewal, and I look forward to the further benefits for MSHA and the NSC that this renewed Alliance will bring.

     We are also continuing to enter into new Alliances. Look for the announcement of a new one late next month. I expect it will be a very productive one for MSHA and our new Alliance partner

     Our helping hand of cooperation doesn't stop at the borders of the United States. As I said yesterday at the World Safety Congress, MSHA remains deeply engaged with other countries to help them make their mines safer and more healthful places in which to work. We continue to work closely with China's State Administration for Worker Safety (SAWS) in fulfillment of a four-year agreement signed in 2002. We maintain our relationship with Ukraine, and we continue to host delegations from other countries such as Peru, the independent states of the former Soviet Union, and Taiwan at our Mine Health and Safety Academy. And of course we are eagerly anticipating competing in the 2006 International Mine Rescue Competition that will be hosted by China next year.

     As you can see, we have had a busy year - and we are anticipating a busy year to come. We will continue to work with our stakeholders, mine operators and miners - the entire spectrum of the mining community - to protect, preserve and promote the safety and health of our nation's miners. We especially value the help that you, the safety and health community, can give us in our efforts to achieve our ultimate goal of zero injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the mines of America. I know we all look forward to the day that I know is coming - the day that each and every one of the miners in these United States goes home safe, healthy and whole to friends and family.

     Thank you for your attention today.