Assistant Secretary of Labor - MSHA
Annual Mine Ventilation Symposium
May 17, 2004
Thank you for the kind introduction . . . and let me thank both Mayor Begich and Lt Governor Leman for joining us today.
I also want to acknowledge this morning's other speakers - Dr. Reichardt and Tom Irwin -- and compliment them too for the fine work they are doing to keep Alaska's mining industry safe and prosperous. As our speakers have already noted, Alaska's mining industry is worth over 1 billion dollars, employs thousands of people, and earning valuable foreign exchange. And MSHA's state field office is a necessary and important partner in guaranteeing the vitality and safety of the miners and the industry. Since 2000, 66 new mines have registered with MSHA.
I also want to thank Sukumar Bandopadhyay and the conference organizing committee for the invitation to join you for the 10th U.S. North American Annual Mine Ventilation Symposium. It isn't often that Assistant Secretaries of Labor get invited to these technical conferences, so I'm especially honored.
MSHA has been from its conception, a strong supporter of these meetings. In fact, we sponsored and hosted the 2nd and 6th International Mine Ventilation Congress. And several of our ventilation experts from MSHA - Robert Haney, Dennie Beiter, John Urosek, and Mark Schultz - are with me today, and will be presenting papers.
When I got the invitation to address this conference, I knew I had to come because of the importance of this audience to the health and safety of miners. Ventilation systems design . . . airborne contaminants generation and control . . . face ventilation . . . advances in modeling and software controlling mine fires . . . everything you will be discussing at this conference, has a direct and immediate impact on the mine industry - its health and safety and productivity..
Your research and applications provide the tools necessary to reduce the risk of explosions, fires, and harmful emissions that can injure miners or result in the loss of jobs and income for hundreds of miners and their families.
You are the technicians - the expert professionals - and MSHA (along with the entire mining community and industry) depends upon your advice and counsel. You also share with MSHA, the burden and the responsibility of making sure that every miner can come home safe and healthy after every shift.
And our work expands beyond the borders of the U.S., to Ukraine, Poland, India and China.
As most of you know, MSHA has a Ventilation Division which concerns itself with the design, application and improvement of mine ventilation systems. Some of their work includes:
- Running computer simulations of proposed system modifications
- Evaluating and improving bleeder systems used in underground coal mines
- Responding to mine emergencies
- Evaluating airborne contaminants and other collection systems to minimize miner exposure.
Whatever it takes, we want MSHA to be a resource for all our stakeholders in the mining community. We especially want our experts to work with you to find real world solutions to the challenges faced in the mines every day.
There can be no question that progress has been made in making the mine environment safer and healthier - several of the MSHA papers will cover the advances made in ceramic filters and bio-diesel fuels to reduce diesel particulate emissions. (Both studies, in fact, were conducted as partnerships with mining industry participants.) Also advances have been made in putting out mine fires. Another MSHA paper, for instance, will discuss how a modified jet engine can be used to blow water vapor and inert gasses into a mine to smother a fire.
On another front, we're witnessing promising advances in PDMs - or personal dust monitors. A new PDM in development uses an air sensor in a miner's cap lamp to check dust levels in real time, and can predict a miner's total dust exposure over a full shift. We're encouraged by the new PDMs and are working with NIOSH, the manufacturer, and other stakeholders to further its evaluation and use in miners.
Collaboration, along with up-to-date technology and processes, is really the key to success in meeting ventilation challenges in the field -- as recently demonstrated in the Dotiki coal mine recovery in Nebo, Kentucky. A mine recovery effort that should have taken three to four months (possibly a year) was completed in less than four weeks as all the parties involved - from MSHA to state to company experts - worked closely together and took quick, decisive action.
In the Dotiki mine, air flows were analyzed . . . 18 underground barriers or seals were remotely installed . . . inert gases were injected into the fire zone to stabilize the mine atmosphere . . . ventilation was restored . . . and the affected area totally isolated. In less than a month, the mine returned to full production saving 360 miner's jobs and putting hundreds of thousands of tons of coal back into the market. The Dotiki mine recovery is a text book example of how engineering experts working as a team can have a tremendous and positive impact on mining operations, miner's lives and their livelihood.
Now let me turn to regulations. As many of you know, MSHA's regulatory agenda contains several key rule making items that should be of interest to this audience.
- Regarding asbestos, we're considering a new rule to lower the permissible exposure limit. Right now MSHA's regs allow substantially more asbestos exposure than OSHA's.
- As for diesel, we're working on a final rule that will cover the remaining issues (expect the final limits) raised in the now three year old litigation.
- And just several weeks ago, we issued a final rule on belt air ventilation for U.S. coal mines. It only took twenty years to get it done! The earlier prohibition on the use of belt air to ventilate working faces is over, as are the petition for modification process that this situation created. In the future, mine operators who choose to use belt air at the face can do so provided they install automatic monitoring systems along with other safety protections. It's a win/win for all the parties involved.
In fact, we have some very aggressive goals when it comes to reducing fatalities, injuries and occupational illness.
As some of you may know, last year, the U.S. mining industry achieved its best safety record since statistics were first compiled in 1910. 56 miners died in mining-related incidents versus 68 in 2002 -- a decrease of 17 percent. The decline in injury rates has followed downward as well. And over the past three years deaths have declined at a remarkable 34 percent and injury rates by more than 20 percent.
Building on theses successes, we have set a number of new health and safety goals: including:
- Reducing fatal injury incidence rates 15 percent by FY 08
- Reducing all injury incidence rates 50 percent from the FY 2000 baseline by FY 08
- Reducing noise exposures above the citation level 5 percent per year from the established baseline.
- Reducing overexposures to respirable coal and silica mine dust standards by 5 percent per year from the established baseline.
That's why we have developed a number of key initiatives. There is MSHA's small mines office, which last year visited more than 1,600 small mines, and there is our renewed emphasis on reaching Hispanic speaking mine employees. Our web site, for example, is available in Spanish and we have bilingual employees available to assist those not proficient in English.
We have also launched national webcasts, so we can discuss with our stakeholders the causes and prevention of fatalities, and we have signed a number of alliance agreements with several mining and safety organizations - including for the first time a union (the International Union of Operating Engineers) - which commits them to a number of safety and health goals.
Across the board, we are seeing increased cooperation between MSHA personnel and mine operators . . . closer working relationships with equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the research and development of new technologies like PDMs . . . and better collaboration with academia and others to find more efficient ways to educate miners. In fact, the University of Alaska- Anchorage just received a $43,000 grant from MSHA to help train miners in safety and health procedures and techniques.
In the coming months and years ahead you will find MSHA less tradition bound and bureaucratic and more efficient and accessible, as we work harder to become the premier mining safety and health agency in the federal government.
As an example of this commitment, MSHA is putting into place (for the first time ever) a formal strategic plan, which will take us through the next five year years. We are discussing succession planning, investments in human capital, and the creation of new metrics to benchmark our process in a number of health and safety goals. We're also reevaluating the inspection process and current regulations . . . looking to improve equipment in field and district offices and the collection of data . . . and upgrade our training curriculum.
Perhaps the most important part of the process is the identification and establishment of the Agency's core value's; values that will drive the Agency's efforts toward improvements in mine safety and health.
As you can see, MSHA has been making great progress. However, we will need your help if we are going to meet our common goals of further reducing miner's exposure to health and safety hazards.
That's why conferences like this are so critical -- to explore new and better ways to ventilate our mines, and in the end, protect our miners. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing -- for our miners to return home safe and healthy.
And to get there, it will take a number of steps, including, better equipment design . . . improved engineering methods . . . continuous training . . . software and modeling advances . . . regulatory reform - like belt air . . . and most importantly, the commitment of all our stakeholders. From mine operators to unions to state and government officials to ventilation experts - we need everyone to make health and safety core values.
The contributions that everyone in this audience can make are tremendous - you're looking at millions of hours of experience and knowledge in managing health and safety challenges - be it ventilation techniques or engineering methods used to control airborne containments.
Over the next two days please take advantage of this opportunity to learn and share from your colleagues. Our hope is that you will come up with some new insights and practical tools to help us further reduce illnesses, injuries and fatalities and create a safer and healthier mine environment.
Thank you again for the invitation to join you . . . Have a great conference.