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Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor David G. Dye
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Utah Mining Association 91st Annual Convention
Park City, UT
August 24, 2006


Good morning, everyone, and thank you Ken (May, - Utah Mining Association Chairman and Manager of Sufco Mine - longest-running coal mine East of the Mississippi - Arch Coal) for that fine introduction. I am honored to have been invited to be one of your keynote speakers here at your 91st Annual Convention, "Utah Mining Begins with Safety." That is certainly a message that resonates with all of us here today.

I am delighted to see this substantial turnout of a cross-section of the mining industry in Utah. It is with people like you who care, who insist on learning the most up-to-date safety and health information, who actively participate in safety and health decisions in your mines - that MSHA can work to reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities in our nation's mines. Thank you for taking the time to come to this conference and for making a daily commitment to safe and healthful operations at your mines.

As you know, we at MSHA have been busy this year. This has been a particularly difficult year so far in our nation's coal mines, with 37 fatalities to date, including the tragedies in West Virginia and Kentucky - as well as 19 fatalities to date in metal and nonmetal mines. So many fatal accidents, coming so quickly at a time when mining fatalities have been steadily declining, are a wake-up call to us that we all need to re-focus and re-dedicate ourselves to making safety job number one at the mines. This level of fatal accidents in America's mining industry is, quite simply, unacceptable. We can do better - I know it and I know you know it. That's why you're here!

I'd like to take some time right now to briefly touch on the new MINER Act that President Bush signed into law on June 15. It is a landmark piece of legislation - the most significant piece of mine safety and health legislation since the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act was originally passed in 1977. We are working hard to implement this new law, and look forward to the help of folks just like you in carrying this out.

I know that the Utah Mining Association is co-sponsoring a workshop on the MINER Act along with the National Mining Association, the Colorado Mining Association and the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute on September 27 at the Western Energy Training Center in Helper, Utah - not too far from here. MSHA will be there to do a presentation on Emergency Response and Preparedness Plans and to answer any questions you might have. I will give you a short overview here, but I'm sure you'd be interested in the more in-depth review that will be provided at the workshop.

Several parts of the bill will require rulemaking. We are in the deliberative process of that now, and you can keep up-to-date on the law and the rules we must make to administer it by regularly visiting our website at www.msha.gov. There is a single page that contains information on the Act and updates on where we stand in implementation. As the law requires some provisions to be implemented by the end of 2006, this is a fast-moving process. Please visit our single-source page often, and when the occasion arises when we seek comments, please give us your input. We are interested in everything the mining community has to say about the new law and its implementation.

Many of the provisions in the law apply solely to underground coal mines, including the requirement that each underground mine develop a written accident and evacuation plan, including tracking systems, air caches, lifelines, training, and local coordination after accidents.

There are also several key provisions that apply to both coal and metal/nonmetal mines, including: Let me just take a moment to say here that although the provisions in the new law regarding emergency evacuation plans apply only to coal mines, it is my firmly held belief that every mine needs an emergency evacuation plan and Standard Operating Procedures for emergencies. The SOPs should include the telephone numbers of all applicable MSHA officials so that any miner or mine management official will know exactly whom to call when the occasion arises. An ounce of prevention and a few telephone numbers can make all the difference.

We also continue other rulemaking activities as well, including exploration of rulemaking on the use of or impairment from alcohol and other drugs on mine property, the drafting a final rule on an asbestos exposure limit, and the drafting of a final rule on high-voltage continuous mining machines. We also published a final rule on diesel particulate matter exposure in underground metal and nonmetal mines on May 18, 2006.

On the technology front, we continue to explore underground communication systems and alternatives, and we just approved a proximity detection system for remote control continuous mining machines. We remain busy and productive at MSHA, both in Washington and in the field.

In the field, our most productive activities result from working with folks like you - a cross-section of industry representatives who make a public commitment to health and safety in your mining workplaces. It is through working with you, the operators on the ground (and under it, of course), that we can move the mining industry forward to fewer illnesses, injuries and fatalities - and ultimately to zero injuries and fatalities and an end to occupational illness. It is only through working together that we can achieve our ultimate goal of zero.

The mining industry in Utah is capable of reaching that goal. I know you are - we've seen you do it. There were zero fatalities in Utah's coal mines in 2001, 2003 and 2005. There were zero fatalities in Utah's metal and nonmetal mines in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Utah's mining industry has proven it can reach zero fatalities - and I know you want to see that every year.

But zero fatalities are only part of the story. Every year, thousands of miners are injured in mining accidents - and, unfortunately, dozens of miners are injured in Utah. The injury incidence rate in metal and nonmetal mining operations in Utah has consistently remained below the national average. Utah's coal mining industry has also enjoyed injury incidence rates below the national average. You're on the right track - you know how to operate safe and healthful mines - you recognize that safety is a value in your mining workplaces. Congratulations - and keep up and accelerate your good work!

While I'm talking with you about accidents and fatalities, I'd like to take a little time talk with you about last year's mining fatalities nationwide and prompt you to think how these trends are reflected in your own mining operations. While coal fatalities last year were the lowest on record at 22, fatal accidents in metal and nonmetal mines last year were way too high. Thirty-five miners lost their lives at metal and nonmetal mines last year - for a total of 57 too many miners who we lost last year.

There were some disturbing trends in those fatal accidents last year. One trend of particular concern was the fact that 16 of the 35 fatalities in metal and nonmetal mines and 9 of the 22 fatalities in coal mines were related to powered haulage. Both of those numbers represent nearly half of the fatalities in each industry sector. And there have been 6 powered haulage fatalities to date in metal-nonmetal this year, or one-third of the total metal-nonmetal fatalities to date. In fact, the single fatality this year in metal-nonmetal mines in Utah was related to powered haulage. There have been five powered haulage fatalities in coal mine operations nationwide so far this year. Those numbers are very disturbing, and tell us that we all have a lot more work to do when it comes to ensuring safe work practices around powered haulage!

Fifteen deaths in metal and nonmetal mines in 2005, or nearly half of 2005's metal/nonmetal fatalities, were also related to a lack of personal protective equipment. Failure to wear seat belts contributed to 9 of the powered haulage deaths in metal/nonmetal mines I mentioned above. Four failed to wear fall protection, and two failed to wear life vests. In coal mines, three of the fatalities in 2005 were also related to a lack of PPE - not wearing a seatbelt, not having the proper personal protective equipment, and not wearing fall protection. Personal protective equipment protects miners only if they actually use it!

We have ample evidence that PPE saves lives. Let me give you just one recent example from the spring of this year: in April, a 60 year-old mechanic was injured at a quarry in Florida while repairing a support brace on a radial stacking conveyor. The brace fell and struck him on the head. Although he went to the hospital with some injuries, a full recovery is expected. He was wearing a hard hat which likely prevented fatal head injuries. I saw a picture of the hard hat - there is a big dent where the brace hit the hat, instead of a big dent in his head. I haven't seen a more graphic example of how PPE saved a life in a long time!

Some of these trends may be reflected in your operations. These trends are clearly an issue in mining operations nationwide - and you may find value in looking at these areas in your operations.

We all have much to do. We at MSHA will continue to work with our stakeholders, mine operators and miners - you, the mining community - to protect, preserve and promote the safety and health of our nation's miners. We especially value the help and input that you as owners, operators, and safety and health professionals can give us in our efforts to achieve our ultimate goal of zero injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the mines of America. Together, we can bring about the day we all look forward to: the day that each and every one of the miners in this country goes home safe, healthy and whole to friends and family.

Thank you for inviting me here today and thank you for your attention this morning.