Assistant Secretary of Labor - MSHA
2004 Mine Health & Safety Conference
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
May 24, 2004
Good morning everyone. Thank you Randy for that kind introduction. You mentioned that you were on the receiving end in our past dealings. I remember it the other way - I was on the receiving end. That is particularly in true in my present position, Randy. I also want to thank Kim McCarter for his participation and for your efforts Kim in putting this Conference together and John Langton was also involved. I know organizing a conference is not an easy thing to do. I'd also like to thank the members of the Institute and the members of the Society. This is quite an impressive gathering. I stand here today and recognize the knowledge and the skill that are in this audience that can further advance the cause of miner health and safety. It often puts me in awe when I stand before a gathering like this to think about the knowledge, the experience and the expertise that is available to help miners go home to their families at the end of each and every day.
I also am very honored to be here, back in my home State and honored that I get to send the regards of President George W. Bush, and my boss, Elaine L. Chao. They are solidly behind what we do, totally behind this industry because of its value and its importance to this nation and its economy.
I also want to extend a special thank you to Governor Walker. I wish she were still here.
It is not often that you can get a governor to come out and address a group such as ours. So we should be very honored and very grateful that we had that opportunity this morning to have the governor of this great State of Utah address this crowd. Again, it is really great to be here and you know, sometimes they say the third time is the charm. I remember two years ago. I was getting ready to come to your Conference in Denver, Colorado. It was my first opportunity to do so, and I flew into Denver, actually where I live now. I got home and no sooner walked in the door when my phone rang, and I was informed that we had a very serious mining incident in Pennsylvania. You all remember Quecreek where the nine miners were trapped for seventy-seven hours. Needless to say, I didn't make your Conference, and I always felt very bad about that. Last year I was on tap to come again to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I normally control my own schedule but sometimes other people do and this was a case where my schedule was controlled by someone else and I didn't make it. So, I guess they say the third time is the charm, and here I am and I really want you to understand how important it is for me to be here.
Being here is important, not because I get a chance to come back and visit my home State, or to come back and see my roots, but to come back and tell you all, thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for what you've done, and look at the progress you've made. Look at the progress this industry has made in health and safety and what it means for this Country. It all starts with this process: Companies don't operate unless they have miners. They can't operate unless those miners are at work, and they have to be at work in good condition. Through your efforts, that is happening. More today than has ever happened in the past. So for me to be here today, it is important for me to say to you, thank you. I'm so very proud of what you do, and I'm proud that I get a chance to say this.
Sometimes in this job we sit on different sides of the fence, and sometimes we have disagreements. Some may not agree on the processes that the Agency takes, or we may not agree with the processes that industry takes. But the one thing that I can assure you of, this past three years has shown me that we all share a common vision. That vision is the same regardless of where we go every day. It is a vision to see zero - to see every miner in this Country go home to their family at the end of every workday in a healthy and safe condition. And we also have a vision about how to get there. We have shown that we can work together to achieve our goals, and we are well on our way. Some day, we're going to get a chance to share in that vision. When we all pull together, whether it's in a routine incident or whether it's in a special effort, we can accomplish great things. I would like to mention two instances. I'm going to talk a little bit about Quecreek because Quecreek was a prime example of people from all over this industry regardless of position, regardless of who they were employed by, pulling together for a common good. I was very proud to be a part of Quecreek because nine people are at home today with their families.
We had another incident earlier this year. Some of you in the coal business may recognize the name, Dotiki, a mine in Western Kentucky that had a mine fire. In pulling together and assembling resources involving this Agency, city and state resources, the company, and the parent company made remarkable progress. Here was a mine whose three hundred and sixty miners were on the street waiting word as to whether or not they could ever go back to work. In a situation that could have taken, should have taken months and perhaps a year to resolve, it was solved in four weeks. In four short weeks. You in the coal business understand what the issues are when an underground mine fire occurs. So the short time was really remarkable. It was the result of the willingness of all the parties to work cooperatively for a common cause. And today, three hundred and sixty miners are back on the job, gainfully employed, providing for their families and thousands of tons of coal which are needed so badly today, are back on the market.
As great as our successes are, as much as we talk about our successes, we are very quickly judged by our failures. Very quickly judged any time we have a failure. So it is important that as we move through these processes that we do everything we can to take the correct steps, so that we may be judged by our successes and not by our failures.
We have an opportunity today, you have an opportunity today, to promote the progress we have achieved. We need to change some views and misconceptions about this industry. When you talk to people and you tell them what you do for a living, their initial and immediate reaction is, "oh my, how dangerous that is." How wrong they are! How wrong they are, but the public doesn't know that. Twenty-five years ago, it was true - how dangerous this was! Not today! How safe we are! How healthy we are as an industry! And our mines are safe for those who work there! That's a message that you have an opportunity to tell this community and to tell the public. We must change the misconceptions about this industry and that will enable us to move forward.
A changed perception will help us do something that I think is very important, something that I have promoted since day one. We must change from a culture of reacting to problems, to a culture of prevention. That's what we're about. We need to be on the front side of issues, not on the back side. We can take that step forward. Frankly, the culture is changing today throughout this industry. We need to let the public know about this community. You know that a miner today in this Country earns an average yearly wage that is $12,500 more than earned by the average worker. This is because our workers are highly skilled, because they are professionals, and yes, because they work in an inherently hazardous environment that we control.
You know that the coal production in this Country per miner, or per shift, is at the highest level it has ever been and it is rising. Six tons per hour per miner in this Country. That's a pretty remarkable achievement when you think about it. Yes, it has gotten there because of technology, it has gotten there because of efficiency of this industry and our professionalism and our expertise. The public needs to know just how important this mining community is to the Nation, to its security, and to its economy. The Nation's demand for coal is enormous. Natural gas prices are high which is driving the demand even higher. I know that Mr. Harvey will talk about where the coal industry is today. In the metal and nonmetal sector, we're seeing a demand never seen before in construction, in housing, in commercial construction, and in road building. All of these issues are putting demands on the mining industry. But the demand is helping our economy, an economy that is being driven by this President's tax packages and by his desire to see this Nation succeed. And today, we are succeeding so very well.
Let me give you an example: Crushed stone has grown eight percent between the end of 2002 and 2003. Sand and gravel is growing at a similar rate because of our robust economy. The end result of all this is good, but it is also very concerning. It is good for miners. It's good for mines. It's good for our Country and it's good for the economy, but we have to be concerned about the impacts that it has for health and safety of our miners when it grows this fast. We have to be sure that we're focused. We have to be sure that our miners don't lose opportunities to be trained. We have to be sure that we're putting miners in positions that they are capable of handling in a healthy and safe manner. We cannot afford to take a step back because of this robust market. Be vigilant in what you do. Don't take a step backwards. Look at the gains we've made in this community. I'll take you back to 1910. Three thousand five hundred miners lost their lives in this Country. In 1977, 272 miners lost their lives in this Country. In 2003, fifty-six miners lost their lives in this Country. Fifty-six too many, but look at the progress! I don't say this to preach to the choir. I say this to tell you about the importance of the work you've done. Look how far we have come. We cannot afford to take a step back.
Our health gains are just as impressive as our safety gains. Black Lung prevalence today has dropped to 2.8 percent. By no means is this good enough. I was astounded that we still have this much. I was astounded that in 2002, 2.8 percent of our miners are still contracting this disease. But twenty-five years ago it was 11 percent. We're making progress. Today we're seeing over-exposures at their lowest limits ever. We have opportunity to further improve that. We've made great progress in this Country but we can make a whole lot more. And how do we do that? We do that by changing our values. We do that by instilling that health and safety are values in our lives and in our business plans. They are as important as the other components. And when we instill health and safety as values in this community, we create the culture of prevention. They go hand-in-hand. That's the opportunity that we have.
We need to take a step and find new ways, new methods, new initiatives, new processes. We need to stay vigilant and we need to change from reactive to proactive in all that we do. We need to renew our sense of purpose as a profession. Make a commitment. Find a passion that's deep within you and bring it forward. The benefits include more miners home to their families at the end of every day in a healthy and safe condition. We need to change how we're viewed. We need to shift the paradigm about this industry and we're starting to make that progress. Elaine Cullen, I see her sitting here, she has done much to promote health and safety by taking advantage of opportunities to move ourselves forward.
We have changing markets today, and as we move forward in those markets, we have to remember what our mandate is. Each one of us in this room, as health and safety professionals, has a mandate. We have a mandate to make sure that health and safety stay at the top of the agenda as we move forward. This agency, MSHA, has a roll to lead in meeting the challenges that face us today. We need to change the way we're perceived as an Agency and we have ways that we can do that. We have golden opportunities! Right now we're moving into the 21st century as an Agency. That's the only way we can succeed as an Agency, is to change our thought process and to change the perception that people have about us.
Many of our opportunities deal with some of the very basics and I'll quickly touch on some of these: Regulations. Three years ago, we streamlined our regulatory agenda. We had twenty-six agenda items on the books. We streamlined them down to eleven. Many of these agenda items that aren't regulations have been on the books for years, some going as far back as 1983 but never being moved upon. So we took a look at what was important to the mining community and to the miners. We put together an agenda that adds value to mine health and safety. They're going to carry this community into the 21st century. We're gotten through some things that we should have resolved many years ago. A prime example is belt air in coal mines. A twenty year process that should have taken three years. We've been criticized for streamlining this process by some. But let me say this to you. We should be judged by our successes, both this Agency and this community. We should not be judged by politicizing miner health and safety or promoting a regulatory agenda. But yet that happens in this community. Judge us for our results! I told you three years ago, judge me for what we do! Well let me tell you, three years later this industry is the safest it has ever been! The healthiest it has ever been! The best performance it has ever had! Judge us on our performance! That's where we are today. More miners today are home with their families in a healthy and safe condition than ever before, and I'm damn proud of it!
Our mandate as an Agency is very clear. Let me tell you very simply. The Mine Health and Safety Act says this Agency is responsible for preventing injury, illness and death, not writing regulations. The Agency must use regulations as a tool to help prevent injury, illness and death and that's what we're doing today and that's what we're going to do tomorrow. That's the approach we're going to take. Our focus will not change. It will stay the same as it has been because we're making progress. You don't fix something, as we all say, that's not broken. You build on it. You tweak it, and you move forward.
This industry and this Agency and this community is meeting the mandate that Congress set. We are achieving the vision. We are moving so close.
I want to relate to you an article that appeared in Coal Age Magazine about two or three months ago for those of you who haven't seen it. It was an editorial about this industry's performance in the coal sector. Here's what Steve Friscor said. He said, "You know, zero is in sight in this industry. It is there for the taking. Wouldn't it be something if a billion tons of coal were produced and not one miner loses their life."
Wouldn't it be something if we had billions of tons of sand, and gravel, and copper, and gold, and silver - all of the commodities and nobody loses their life. We're very close. Together we can make this happen. I thought that was an extremely poignant statement for a magazine to make because we're that close. That's a credit to you.
Now from this Agency's perspective, where do we have to go from here? We have something that's working. We are in the throes of building our future for MSHA. We're in the throws of building a plan that will institutionalize the processes that we have put in place. We're building for the first time a strategic plan that will take us into the future, that will entrench us in the 21st century in a way that will allow us to move toward continued progress. It is essential for this Agency and for our future success. We have some barriers to overcome, however, and they're being worked on. We experience resistance to change of course, just like all of you have in your own organizations. We have it in ours, but I think that resistance is less today than it has ever been, and we have opportunities. We have to develop new leaders for this Agency, and that's part of our strategic planning process. We have to be willing to educate and train our workforce in the highest standards that we possibly can for quality performance. Our purpose in strategic planning is to make sure that we have consistent processes that we, once and for all, become one MSHA, that we work toward common goals, common purposes and not at cross-purposes. We have to become flexible and efficient. We have to upgrade our enforcement processes. We must look at what can get us the biggest return on investment. We must look at where we need to focus our efforts and our resources. We must not focus our regulatory attention on those who do it right, but those who do it wrong. We have to create the right set of measures that we can monitor to move us forward. We have to raise the bar for our own employees, and we have to invest, most importantly, in our staff and in our training. Then we finally need to foster industry-wide cooperation to achieve excellence in health and safety performance. Our method has been very simple to date. It has really been a bottom-up approach to mold this process. We've had eleven focus sessions across the Country with ideas about how to improve. We've offered every employee in this Agency an opportunity to get on the web site and participate in the strategic planning process, to help us identify our mission, our vision and our values. Let me share with you, for the first time, what this Agency has come up with.
Our mission is to create health and safety professionals who are dedicated to sending miners home healthy and safe at the end of every shift. Our vision as an Agency is to be partners in leading to zero fatals in this industry and an end to occupational illness. Our core values as an Agency are going to be commitment, mutual respect, integrity and efficiency. It was the employees of this Agency who defined our mission, vision and core values. Employees of whom I am very proud!
We have to develop a workforce of tomorrow, and that's the plan that we're working on now. Fifty percent of our employees are going to be eligible to leave this Agency in the next five years. Not an uncommon situation in this industry. What is more troublesome and scary is that our new hires today are forty-seven years old on average. We have to look to the future and consider who will replace us tomorrow. We need to find a new generation of employees to take our place. We have great opportunities, and by working together, I believe we can succeed.
We have a lot of new things going on in technology. Personal dust monitors that we're working very closely with NIOSH on. We have proximity devices for continuous mining machines which continue to be problematic. Just last week we lost a miner who got between a continuous miner boom and the rib. A proximity device could have prevented that occurrence. We're working very hard on diesels. Bio-diesel fuel, diesel particulates, many things like that in cooperation with those of you here today. Today we're in a collaborative effort more than we've ever been, particularly with academia. Just a couple of months ago, we granted to the Utah Applied Technology Center, one hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars to further advance health and safety training for miners in this State, and we're going to be strengthening our relationships with our stakeholders. Stakeholders including this Institute and this Society if we're to move forward. But one of the most important things that I think we've done in the past year is developing industry alliances that promote health and safety.
Just last month we had the honor of going to the Industrial Minerals Association and recognizing their members for their performance on the goals that this Agency had set. The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association was the first alliance established. Eighty-Six percent of their members today have signed a safety pledge to adopt the goals of reducing injury, illness and death in the Nation's mines by the levels that we established as an Agency, and they're making the mark. We have an alliance with the International Union of Operating Engineers that I'm so very proud of because not only does it promote health and safety for miners, but it promotes protection for this Country. It's our newest agreement and we're very anxious about moving that forward.
Our results are impressive since we began this process, but as we move forward to tomorrow, we have to work together. Our progress has been great. If we look at where we're at this year, for fiscal year 2004 or calendar year 2004, we're making additional gains. Looking over the past three years, there has been a thirty-four percent reduction in fatalities and a twenty percent reduction in injuries. We have an opportunity to continue to improve this year. So let me just say this. We don't want to become an industry that takes a back seat to anybody especially in health and safety. We want to make sure to take advantage of our opportunities. Conferences like this provide such opportunities. They provide value to the mining community, they give you an opportunity to share ideas and new approaches with your colleagues. They give you the opportunity to bolster this profession. Your contributions in this process are critical if we're to move forward and create a culture of prevention. We can do so by instilling the values of health and safety in our people. We need to re-think everything that we do to achieve our vision.
I'm going to close this out with a little saying from humorist Mark Twain. He said, "Always do right and you will amaze people." Well, here's my message to you. Keep amazing people by staying focused, by staying committed, by being passionate about what you do.
Thank you so very much for what you do. God bless you and God bless America.