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Remarks of John P. Pallasch, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Mine Safety and Health Administration
at
IMA-NA Spring Meeting
Washington, DC
April 26, 2007


Thanks, Mark, for that great introduction. Assistant Secretary Stickler very much regrets that the press of business is keeping him away from speaking with you today. It is, however, my good fortune that he asked me to fill in for him. I'm delighted that the IMA-NA (pron. eye-em-ay-en-ay - just the initials) is my first foray into speech-making for MSHA - I met Mark for the first time many years ago and it's good to be here with you all.

I'm also happy that my inaugural speech for MSHA happens to be an award function. Everyone is cheerful, everyone is looking forward to the awards presentations, and today I understand I get to do the fun part - help give out the awards.

In my opinion, the very best kind of awards programs are those that recognize improvements in worker safety. That is what we at MSHA are all about - that is what every employee at MSHA lives to do, every day. We at MSHA live to protect and promote the safety and health of workers throughout the mining industry.

It's always a pleasure to recognize companies that make outstanding safety and health achievements. These companies are helping the entire mining industry achieve our ultimate goal - sending safe and healthy miners home to their families, every shift, every day. I understand that IMA-NA members are improving their safety records every year - the incident rate for accidents for IMA-NA members is lower this year than last year, and in 2006 there were no fatal accidents in IMA-NA member mines. For this, you are all to be commended. But our work is not done. Until we eliminate every injury and fatality, there is still room for improvement.

I'm also glad to be here because MSHA has such a strong and productive alliance with the IMA-NA - not only in sponsoring some of these awards, but in a formal alliance that I believe we have all found constructive, useful and important to the improvement of health and safety in the mining industry. Our collaboration - above and beyond compliance - will make mines safer and healthier.

One major accomplishment of our Alliance will come to fruition this year - "A Practical Guide to an Occupational Health Program for Respirable Crystalline Silica." I want to take a moment to recognize the IMA's Safety and Health Committee, Mr. John Kelse (kelsss) of R.T. Vanderbilt Inc., and the MSHA employees who have all worked hard in a cooperative relationship to produce this manuscript. I understand that after some final clearances by the various legal folks, the guide is scheduled to be published this year.

This up-to-date guide is an important resource for the mining industry. Both MSHA and the IMA share the goal of protecting employees from the dangers associated with overexposure to crystalline silica and this guide will help us all do that.

This guide provides guidelines which individual mining companies can use to monitor occupational exposures and associated respiratory health effects of crystalline silica exposures. Other occupational groups exposed to crystalline silica - such as workers in building construction, demolition and repair, abrasive blasting, aggregate production and handling, and highway/bridge construction and repair - may find this guide helpful as well. I'm proud that this great example of government-industry cooperation will ultimately improve the safety and health of workers in America's mining industry.

I do want to express MSHA's appreciation for the IMA-NA's help in publicizing our latest safety and health outreach effort, "Stop the Fatalities." The IMA-NA has distributed the materials we have provided to member operations and is helping us get the word out.

"Stop the Fatalities" stems from the disturbing fact that between March 23 and April 18 of this year, 6 metal and nonmetal employees have been killed. So far this year, nine fatalities have occurred in the metal and nonmetal mining industry. We at MSHA are requesting that operators take time out to talk to employees about the causes of these accidents. Sharing information and discussing these recent accidents with the employees can help them to avoid these types of accidents in the future.

A significant contributing cause in most accidents is the failure to identify hazards and control or eliminate them. Employees must pay careful attention to what is going on around them and to the tasks they are performing. I want to take a moment right now to remind you of those facts, and to ask you to visit our website for more information and materials you can use in your own operations.

As I'm sure you know, the last year has been incredibly busy for MSHA. One of Assistant Secretary Stickler's highest priorities is the implementation of the improved safety protections and new enforcement provisions of the MINER Act.

This Act will enhance safety and health in America's mines for years to come. It is a landmark piece of legislation - the most significant piece of mining safety and health legislation since the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act was passed in 1977.

We at MSHA are working hard on the rulemaking that is required for us to administer and enforce the MINER Act. Although, we are currently in the deliberative process of many new rulemakings, I can give you an update on a few points and talk about the rulemaking that has been completed.

I know that two particular pieces of the MINER Act are of special interest to the members of the IMA-NA: the final version of the emergency temporary standard (ETS) that was promulgated last December - which included the 15-minute notification rule - and the revised penalty structure in Part 100.

One of the provisions contained in the rule that finalized the emergency temporary standard was MSHA's National One Call toll-free telephone number of 1-800-746-1553 to notify MSHA within 15 minutes for immediately reportable accidents. The list of immediately-reportable accidents can be found on our website, including posters that you can print for your operations. The 15-minute rule doesn't mean that you must report every small injury or incident - you need only report the incidents that meet one of the criteria in the immediately reportable category.

I know you've already had a briefing on Part 100 from other MSHA folks, so I'll just lightly touch on this new rule. The rule was published in the Federal Register on March 22 and became effective this past Monday, April 23. The final rule results in an across-the-board increase in penalties from the existing regulations; however, penalties increase more significantly for operators with a history of repeated violations of the same standards, and for operators whose violations involve high degrees of negligence or gravity. The higher penalties in the final rule are intended to increase the incentive for mine operators to prevent and correct violations.

There were three provisions on penalties contained in the MINER Act that we implemented by policy: increased penalties for flagrant violations, unwarrantable failure, and immediate notification violations. Those have been in force since last year, and were also codified in the final rule.

In addition to those three provisions, the new rule increases civil penalties overall, targeting operators who are the worst safety and health offenders.

The rule adds a new provision to increase penalties for operators who repeatedly violate MSHA standards.

For single penalty citations, non-significant and substantial (non-S&S) violations are processed as a regular assessment (as opposed to $60 single penalty in previous rule).

For special assessments, the new rule removes the list of specific categories for special assessment. The new rule retains MSHA's authority to specially assess penalties for violations, as appropriate.

For health and safety conferences, the new rule provides 10 days for safety and health conference requests and requires that they be in writing and contain a brief statement why each citation or order should be conferenced.

We continue work on other rules mandated by the MINER Act, as well as other safety and health initiatives both mandated by the Act and dictated by health and safety trends in the area. As you know, most of those rulemaking initiatives do concern underground coal mines, although once again there are portions that are relevant to the metal and nonmetal mining industry.

I want to take a moment here to thank you, the members of the IMA-NA, for your vigorous, professional support of award-winning mine rescue teams, reflected in the fact that two FMC teams took first and second place in last year's Metal and Nonmetal National Mine Rescue Contest - FMC White in first place and FMC Red in second. Your active support of mine rescue teams speaks volumes for your strong commitment to and industry leadership in making our mines safer and more healthful places to work.

Although the MINER Act's underground communications mandate only applies to underground coal mines, I thought you might be interested to know about what we're doing in that area. We have thus far observed testing or demonstration of 19 communication and/or tracking systems at various mine sites. We have met with representatives from 48 communication and tracking system companies. To date, we have had discussions with various vendors regarding 133 different proposals for development of mine communications and tracking systems. We continue to work with the NIOSH Emergency Communication and Testing Partnership to arrange for demonstrations of additional systems. We are also assisting NIOSH in the review of proposals received in response to their Requests for Proposals (RFPs). A public meeting was also held on last month at the National Press Club here in Washington.

Asbestos remains on our Regulatory Agenda. We will be working on it during this year. As you know, we have already published a proposed rule. The record has closed and we are in rulemaking now, so I can't say any more other than we are working on it.

With all the rulemaking activity occurring, I want to assure you that MSHA recognizes the difference in hazards presented by underground coal and nonmetallic minerals mining. The MINER Act does apply primarily to underground coal mines, although as you know there are provisions (such as increased civil penalties, 15-minute notification, mine rescue teams) that do apply across the board. While I understand that you as industrial mineral operators are concerned about recent legislation and increased scrutiny, MSHA does recognize that a "one-size-fits-all" approach simply does not work in the mining industry. We get that, and will continue to the extent allowed by law to take that into account in our rulemaking and other initiatives.

I want to take a little time right now to talk about last year's fatality record in metal and nonmetal mines and set you to thinking of ways we can work together to improve on that this year. Obviously, last year was a very difficult year for the coal mining industry sector, with 47 fatalities. Metal and nonmetal mines had a lower number of fatalities - 25 - but that was still, quite honestly, unacceptably high. Seventy-two miners lost their lives last year in mining accidents. We can - and must - do better.

As we have in previous years, we saw some trends in the fatalities that continue to concern us - and I want to re-emphasize them here with you today. One trend of particular concern was the fact that 7 of the 25 fatalities in metal and nonmetal mines - nearly one-third - were related to powered haulage. And to date, one out of 9 fatalities this year was in powered haulage. In spite of an improvement over 2005, we still have a lot more work to do when it comes to maintaining and operating mobile equipment safely!

Failure to properly block equipment is another leading cause of death in the mining industry. Failing to perform this simply but absolutely necessary task before working on equipment has caused many tragic and unnecessary deaths. During the last five years alone, failure to block equipment has been cited more times than any other standard following a fatality at MNM mines. I'd like to ask you now to make it clear to everyone in your operations that all equipment must be securely blocked against all hazardous motion at all times while work is being performed on that equipment. Strong reinforcement of that message will save lives.

Maintenance is also an area of great concern in fatal injury analysis. More than half - 14 out of 25 - of the fatal accidents last year in metal and non-metal mines were maintenance related, and many of them occurred because no risk assessments were conducted before the victim started the maintenance-related task. This disturbing trend unfortunately is continuing this year -- 5 out of the 9 fatal accidents thus far in 2007 in metal and nonmetal mines were maintenance-related. Inadequate procedures, lack of risk assessments, and no task training prior to performing work were the leading root causes of these accidents.

Now, we all know that a good preventative maintenance program is essential in running a safe and productive mine. Equipment that is maintained properly is much safer to operate than poorly maintained equipment. But we also know that maintenance itself is an activity that can present some risk so it is vital that risk assessments be performed before each task.

Please, take a moment to study these accident trends, think about what they mean, and apply them to your own operations.

I appreciate your presence here today, and I appreciate your kind attention. We all know that cooperative and collaborative relationships, such as the one MSHA and the IMA-NA have, are a significant factor in making mining workplaces safer and more healthful. When we work together and share our experiences and best practices, we amplify our shared resources and accomplish more than we can alone.

We at MSHA remain busy, productive, active, and engaged with the mining industry. We all know we have much to do. We will continue to work together - stakeholders, mine operators, labor and miners - the entire spectrum of the mining community - to protect, preserve and promote the safety and health of our nation's miners.

We at MSHA 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.

And now to the fun part of the afternoon. Mark, let's give out some awards now!

Thank you.