Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
addressing the Knott/Floyd Holmes Safety Council
Thursday, January 24, 2002
Good evening. It's a pleasure to be here with you today.
I appreciate a second chance at addressing this group.
Last October, I received an invitation to speak to you but, unfortunately, that invitation came on the heels of the September 11 attack in New York and Washington and the accident at Jim Walter Resources less than two weeks later. It was a hectic time for all of us, and I thank you for your patience and understanding.
Whether you are a state or federal health and safety specialist, a company safety director, a mine worker or a supplier, your participation demonstrates your commitment to improving the health and safety of miners in this area, and ultimately, throughout the nation.
I understand your chapter will be celebrating 10 years this year and are 100-members strong. Congratulations.
It is gratifying to note that approximately 90 percent of the mines in this area are members of the Knott/Floyd chapter. That says a lot about this community's commitment to safer and healthier mines.
Each time you meet, you are forging relationships with colleagues that will only serve to enhance our collective goals. And when the quarterly meeting breaks up, and some of you spend an additional two or three hours hashing out the issues, those relationships are cemented even further.
These days, Kentucky coal operators are communicating better than ever with each other. I appreciate the cooperative relationship MSHA has developed with Kentucky's Department of Mines and Minerals. We are all working hard to change the way we do business, and I believe it shows.
Last year was an intensely difficult one for this nation as a whole, but we in the mining community have much to be grateful for.
In 2001, fatal injuries at all mines in the United States declined to a new record-low total of 72.
That was 13 fewer than in calendar year 2000, and the lowest figure since records have been kept, starting in the early 20th century.
Here in Kentucky, you've made incredible strides over the past year.
There were 5 coal mining fatalities in 2001, compared to 13 in 2000, a 61.5 percent decline. In 2000, Kentucky led the nation in coal mining deaths.
In 1999, Kentucky tied West Virginia with the most deaths at 9, and in 1998, again led the nation in coal mining fatalities with 12 deaths.
The safety progress here in Kentucky is an accomplishment in which you should all take pride. This achievement shows what can be done when we are committed and when we work together. Well done.
I've always felt that one key to further progress in any arena is to set goals. I am a firm believer that to achieve excellence there must be an identified, measurable target to work toward. With that in mind, we have set some very specific targets for the whole U.S. mining industry.
Two of our goals over the next four years are to reduce the number of fatalities by 15 percent per year and to reduce our non-fatal days-lost injury rate by 50 percent over this same four-year period.
I talked with a great many people in the mining community about these goals and all have agreed that these are worthwhile and do-able objectives.
And today I am asking for your agreement and commitment toward achieving these objectives.
Preliminary data indicate that the one of the goals I mentioned was met in the year 2001. The mining industry as a whole reduced fatalities by 15 percent. And, of course, Kentucky's achievement contributed greatly to meeting that goal.
At the same time, it must be noted that fatalities in the coal industry increased last year, from 38 in 2000 to 42 in 2001. Thirteen of those deaths came in one tragic coal mine accident in Brookwood, Alabama, at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine last September.
It was a heartbreaking situationmost of the victims were responding to help victims of the first explosion, when a second explosion struck. This tragic accident forcibly reminds us of the need for constant vigilance.
We are now conducting a thorough investigation there to determine the root cause of the accident and to find ways to prevent this type of tragedy in the future. We in MSHA recognize that excellence in safety and health demands close cooperation from everyone mining companies throughout the country, mine workers, trade associations, labor organizations, state agencies and educational institutions all individuals and groups that have a vested interest in mine safety and health.
Accordingly, at the beginning of my tenure, I pledged that MSHA would be in closer touch with its stakeholders.
I've been to mining operations across the country. I've stopped at MSHA offices in almost every district, including an all-employees district meeting here just this morning.
I've met with labor representatives, mine operators, miners and many others to ask for ideas for improving mine safety and health as well as to offer our assistance.
We held literally dozens and dozens of meetings late last year across the country to reach out to our stakeholders and obtain input on how to improve safety and health for our nation's mines and miners.
Some were held to get input on miner training.
And we also held meetings to obtain ideas for using information technology to improve safety and health for miners.
We held informational meetings with industry and labor on a new "common platform," which would make a wide variety of mine safety and health data more easily accessible to MSHA and the mining community.
I hope that some of you were able to take part in one or more of these meetings. Over the holiday period we have been compiling and studying the input we received.
MSHA is currently working to develop an action plan that will implement the many comments and suggestions received during the stakeholder meetings.
We plan to share the results with all of you in the very near future. However, at this point, I think I can give you a brief preview of some issues that emerged.
First of all, our stakeholder meetings showed that improvements are possible and change is required in the way MSHA goes about its business.
Secondly, from industry and labor, from trainers and manufacturers and others, we heard the same thing, and I agree: MSHA needs to view itself as more than an enforcement agency.
MSHA needs to be about compliance assistance, partnerships, education, training, and technical support as well as enforcement. We need to look at what works not just what isn't working.
We need to encourage good health and safety performance, and not just find poor performance.
We need to become pro-active not just re-active.
Let me be clearthat doesn't mean less enforcement. It means that we'll bring a focus to our enforcement efforts and change the way we function, but any change will be done within the confines of the Mine Act.
I took an oath to uphold the law. And I will do that.
At the same time, I believe there is much more to our mission.
Another aspect we heard about consistently was training.
In fact, training was probably the single issue that we heard most about from all segments of the mining community. It's clear that everyone agrees Effective training is an essential tool in our efforts to reduce accidents causing injury and illness.
At the same time, we face the challenge of recruiting and training a new generation of mine workers.
If we are going to reduce mining accidents still further, we will have to ensure that miners and supervisors know how to follow safe procedures in the workplace. We will have to better prepare them to perform their tasks safely.
We're reviewing what people in the mining community have told us about new miner training as well as experienced miner training and existing language barriers. We're looking closely at ways in which MSHA can help the mining industry create and maintain a superbly trained mining workforce.
And it is also imperative that MSHA's own health , safety and compliance specialists receive enhanced training training that will bring us in line with the workforce and workplaces of the 21st century.
Another common theme in our stakeholder meetings was compliance assistance.
A large number of people voiced a need for compliance assistance along with training. The majority of participants advocated a shift from what they see as an adversarial relationship. Many stakeholders said they would like MSHA to provide more advice on accident prevention measures and hazard recognition, and to make more materials available.
Yet another common theme was improving the inspection process.
While somewhat different in their ideas, both industry and labor representatives suggested that we look at ways to make the most effective use of our health and safety specialists' time during an inspection.
Other common themes concerned getting more and better use of the data we collect, and making the regulatory process more collaborative.
I have asked MSHA's top managers to take the comments of our stakeholders to heart. These comments harmonize with my view that MSHA can, and should, be more than merely an enforcement agency.
What I am talking about is an agency that brings a healthy balance among those activities the Mine Act mandates: enforcement, education and training including compliance assistance and technical support. We must always make safety and health our prime value by which we judge any action we decide to take.
Shortly, we will be rolling out our management plan that includes the many specific steps we will take in 2002 to bring the way we do business more closely in line with this philosophy and with what we have learned from our stakeholders.
Our plan envisions MSHA, industry, and labor working together in new kinds of partnerships to create positive health and safety results.
In addition, we are currently working with the mining community on several key health issues. Some of these concern regulations, while others concern education and training and technical support.
Here we have set goals as well. They include reduction of the percentage of respirable dust samples (silica and coal mine dust) exceeding the applicable standards, by 5 percent each year.
And we set out a performance standard to reduce the percentage of noise exposures above the action level that would trigger a citation by a like amount.
Before I move on, let me say this about regulations. Any regulation that we recommend will not be done without the most serious consideration. It MUST make a difference in advancing miner health and safety, or else it is superfluous.
And in the case of newly proposed regulations, we will also ask for and consider input from all sectors of the mining community in order to achieve the most workable, effective regulations possible.
Just last month, the Department of Labor announced its new regulatory agenda for this year. If you've seen it, you noticed that it is quite a bit shorter than some past agendas. And if you haven't seen it, all I can say is "trust me," it's significantly shorter.
In this new year, we plan to focus our attention strictly on those areas we believe most deserving of our attention.
Instead of spreading our time and attention over a large number of rulemaking projects, many of which have been on the agenda for several years, we will concentrate on a smaller number.
In that list, of course are major pending health rules like HAZCOM, the exposure limit for asbestos in the mining industry, respirable dust standards and improving and eliminating regulations.
In any rulemaking we initiate, your input is critical. I hope that we will continue to work together on the basis of mutual respect, sharing information so that any resulting rules or changes to existing rules will be workable, effective and provide safer and more healthful workplaces.
You may ask, "What can we do right now?"
To maintain the safety records we have achieved and continue the progress, education and training will be critical.
First and foremost, we need to work on making "safety a value" for every person working in every mine on every shift.
Even with last year's overall good safety record, there were a few signs suggesting reasons for concern clusters of accidents, causing not only non-fatal injuries, but clusters of fatal injuries..At that time, I suggested that mine operators across the country ask their employees to take a brief time-out, or "stand down for safety," and talk about accidents and trends, and to re-evaluate safety practices and procedures.
Reaching every miner on every shift in our nation's mines has been a tall order. We mailed out packets of safety information that can be used at the mines. We've posted information on MSHA's web site.
We asked all mine operators, regardless of mine type, to take a hard look at safety practices to talk to employees about safe practices on the job. We asked for mine operators to review safety procedures in place and to make sure that those procedures are updated and well understood by all miners.
I know that Districts 6 and 7 take "Stand Down for Safety" very seriously, and that our MSHA representatives out here have been spending entire shifts with miners, discussing safe work habits and offering up technical assistance and training.
On our web site, you'll find statistics back to the turn of the century that show how far we've come.
You'll also find information regarding last year's statistics broken down by type of mine, type of accident, and state, as well as details of each occurrence.
And you will find accident prevention tips for you to use at your operations.
Experience shows that nothing gets attention like real information about real accidents that have happened and how similar accidents can be prevented.
A nationwide "stand down for safety" in the mines is a new idea. But by itself, it is not enough to create long-term improvements. Long-term improvements will demand long-term action.
In addition, we must remember our goal to reduce the thousands of nonfatal injuries that occur each year. We need to make safety a value for every miner and supervisor -- on the job every day.
Last month I traveled to the National Mine Health and Safety Academy to attend the graduation of a new class of mine safety, health and compliance specialists.
Like me, most of these new employees began their MSHA career with 20 to 25 years of mining experience already under their belts.
As I congratulated them on completing a rigorous 23-week training course, I also spoke to them about you and our other stakeholders. Each of our employees, I told them, plays a key role in establishing and maintaining relationships with mine operators, miners and others who have a stake in mine safety and health.
I told them that, as our representatives, they will be expected to uphold the law each and every day, to treat our stakeholders with respect, and to conduct themselves in a professional manner.
At the same time, I told them, that our mission has to be a balanced effort. And I urged them to promote and commit to making "safety a value." And I told them to live that message personally!
I urge you to do the same. Safety is more than just the length of time that has elapsed since your last accident. It is more than just a number and it certainly is more than just a word. It is a "value" a very personal value, and one that I hope all of you share.
Stress the importance of good safety practices and changing old ways when the old ways are no longer promoting safety. Talk about safe procedures with other personnel and take time to discuss ways to prevent accidents before they happen.
All of us need to promote safe work practices that achieve safe production each and every day.
Only by making safety a value can we expect to make further progress in miner safety and health.
We have some of the safest mining operations in the world...we need to keep them that way. But we also need to do more.
If we persevere and pursue the goals I have put forward, over the next four years the number of fatalities would be reduced by 45 and the industry would have an average lost-day injury rate of 1.72, a rate that would be second to none.
These are worthy goals and nothing should sway our determination in achieving these goals. And when we achieve these goals, how will you feel?
As members of this fine organization, you are a critical component of the industry's future health and safety success. We in MSHA appreciate your support, and all that you do for mine health and safety. I hope you will continue to be active and continue to seek ways to improve the mining industry as a whole.
Just one more point.
Thinking back to the time around September 11th that historic watershed one thing I will always remember is how so many mining companies, as well as MSHA's own employees, stepped forward in that emergency to offer any help they could give.
During this time, I will always remember how, again, this industry's rescue teams responded with selfless heroism and determination.
I would like to challenge you to bring that same determination, that same energy, that same passion to the daily task of preventing accidents.
Working together, we can surely achieve the most ambitious of safety and health goals. We can save lives, prevent painful injuries and illnesses, and prevent losses that affect miners, their families and mining companies.
That should be our focus and our goal. We can do it, and I believe with your help, we will.
Again, thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening.
God Bless you, and God Bless America.
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