Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Mine Safety and Health
National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association’s 2015 Convention
March 16, 2015
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the state of mine safety and health. Regrettably, Secretary Tom Perez was unable to attend. However, he sends his regards and was pleased he had the opportunity to speak to NSSGA leadership and members at the Roundtable meeting we convened last October.
MSHA, the mining industry and others have made many improvements, particularly in the past five years, that are laying the foundation for better protections for miners.
MSHA’s extensive outreach to and communications with stakeholders, including the NSSGA, has contributed to these efforts and assisted the industry in reaching the lowest fatal and injury rates in metal and nonmetal mining history in 2011, 2012 and FY2013. I will address some of those today.
However, the recent increases in deaths at metal and nonmetal mines are overshadowing those improvements. In 2014, 42 miners died in mining accidents. Sixteen occurred at coal mines, the lowest number ever recorded. Twenty six were at metal and nonmetal mines, an increase from last year and part of a disturbing trend of 38 fatalities that began in October, 2013. Fourteen of these deaths were at aggregate mines.
These fatalities occurred in 28 surface and 10 underground mines in 19 states, involving 11 contractors and 27 mine employees. Nine fatalities involved power haulage; 7 falling/sliding material; 5 fall of persons; 4 machinery; 3 explosives; 2 fall of rib; 2 electrical, 2 hoisting; and 1 roof fall. Of the miners killed, 9 were supervisors, 8 were truck drivers and one was an operator. Lack of basic protections and inadequate workplace examinations and training are among the deficiencies we are finding. We have more detailed information on our website at http://www.msha.gov/fatals.
These increases are unacceptable and we all must redouble our efforts to reverse the troubling trend. Safety records in past years show us that this is possible.
MSHA is stepping up enforcement, looking hard at conditions that caused these 38 fatalities, and we are asking the industry to do the same. We are continuing our outreach and education, including “walk and talks” with miners and operators and sharing information with the industry on the deaths and the best practices to prevent them. During the first week in February, as the NSSGA joined us at stakeholder meetings, we were increasing these efforts.
At our February 25 stakeholder meeting, we discussed next steps and also unveiled a new online tool to assist operators, miners, MSHA and others to monitor every mine’s violations of the “Rules to Live By” standards that are frequently cited following mining deaths.
MSHA intends---and operators should---use this new tool, which lists all “Rules to Live By” standards cited during the last MSHA inspection and automatically highlights if a mine’s violation rate is above the national average, to reduce metal and nonmetal deaths. The “Rules to Live By” standards were cited in about half of the 29 investigations on the fatalities that we have completed so far.
During the past five years, we have worked hard at MSHA to retool mine safety and health. Since I arrived at the agency, engagement with and outreach to the mining community has been central to my approach for improving stakeholder communications and participation, providing better industry compliance guidance and consistency in our enforcement – and above all – to make mines safer for miners.
I, along with top MSHA staff, regularly travel the country meeting with industry stakeholders and visiting mines to discuss mine safety and health and see the results of mine safety work first-hand. I want to thank the NSSGA for being an active participant in many of these events that have led to positive change.
Last fall, Metal and NonMetal Administrator Neal Merrifield and I met with industry stakeholders from eight states in Kansas City, Missouri. Over the years, I have attended about a half-dozen such meetings in the Mid-West. We toured the Stamper Underground Mine, a limestone operation owned by Martin Marietta with 27 miners. This mine has not had any lost time accidents since 2009. The mine credits training and employee engagement for its success. While we were at the mine, I noticed a plaque in the break room with the Company's “Guardian Angel Creed,” which gives miners the right to stop operations if conditions become dangerous. This is a motto many mining operations adopt and others should as well.
As a result of these ongoing stakeholder engagements, MSHA issued guidance to clarify a number of existing standards. The clarifications have improved consistency in enforcement and furthered mine safety and health. In 2010, MSHA issued new guidance on the guarding standards, which were the most cited by MSHA at metal non and metal mines. The NSSGA made it possible for MSHA personnel to observe, photograph and videotape guards of all sorts and constructions at mines in the development of the highly successful guidance. The guidance was piloted with stakeholders before implementation.
NSSGA and other stakeholders also urged MSHA to clarify the fall protection standard, and our new policy recognizes OSHA fall protection standard as generally satisfying MSHA’s standard.
In addition, with stakeholder encouragement, we now recognize OSHA’s global hazard communications standard as meeting our standard.
The NSSGA and other stakeholders also worked with MSHA to clarify ladder safety standards, and NSSGA and MSHA are currently working on a video on inspections to be shown to MSHA’s inspectors in training.
From March 19 through the 21st, MSHA and NSSGA will be jointly conducting a noise and dust workshop at the Bluegrass Materials Texas Quarry in Maryland, where instructors from MSHA’s Mine Academy will be training operators on proper sampling techniques for dust and noise.
I want to thank NSSGA’s leadership and members and look forward to our continued cooperation to improve miner safety and health.
MSHA has also put a number of other important policies in place to protect miners, including the End Black Lung - Act Now campaign; the Rules to Live By initiative focusing on preventing the most common causes of deaths; overhauling the virtually unused Pattern of Violations enforcement tool to rein in chronic violators and launching strategic enforcement actions such as monthly impact inspections to target problem mines.
We have also overhauled how we do business, implementing about 100 reforms identified in internal and independent audit recommendations and encouraging mine operators to take more responsibility to find and fix hazards.
Our actions, coupled with those by the industry and others, have advanced safety and health. Let me share with you some of the results.
Our efforts to clarify and more consistently enforce existing standards have been successful. From FY2010, when the first phase of the guarding initiative began, to FY2014, guarding violations were down 43 percent, and between FY2013 when the fall protection guidance began and FY2014, fall protection violations decreased by 12 percent.
MSHA’s revised Pattern of Violations (POV) enforcement program has substantially reduced the number of problem mines, led to significant improvements of mines’ safety records and help reduced the overall high violation rates found prior to the 2010 reforms.
In 2010, when MSHA first used the revised potential POV screening tool, 51 mines were identified for further review. Using the same screening criteria in our most recent screening, 12 mines were identified– a 76 percent reduction.
Mines placed under a POV action have significantly improved compliance and the latest review of them shows that S&S violations dropped by 62 percent and the operator-reported rate of lost-time injuries dropped 48 percent. Notably, unwarrantable failures dropped by 81 percent. In addition, from 2010 to 2014 there was a 30 percent drop in S&S violations among the top 200 metal and nonmetal and coal mines ranked by number of S&S issuances. This indicates a broader industry improvement.
We have also conducted nearly 880 special impact inspections, resulting in improved compliance and safer mines. These inspections have allowed MSHA to address problems, especially at mines with escalating violations, more quickly.
While in 2014, citations and orders issued to metal and nonmetal operators rose slightly, over a five-year period compliance has improved, dropping 20 percent from 73,713 in 2010 to 58,953 in 2014. Penalties assessed for violations also declined by 26 percent from $47 million in 2010 to $34.6 million in 2014.
MSHA is seeking further improvements to its citation and order writing process. On July 31, 2014, we proposed revisions to the Part 100 Criteria and Procedures for Assessment of Civil Penalties rule to simplify the criteria, reducing the number of decisions inspectors would have to make.
Those changes should result in more consistent and objective citations and orders, fewer areas of dispute and earlier resolution of enforcement issues. The proposal also places greater emphasis on more serious safety and health conditions, decreases the penalty amount for small metal and nonmetal mines, is more open and transparent in the application of the regular formula penalty criteria and sets out alternatives that address the scope and applicability of its civil penalty regulation.
After conducting four public hearings around the country, on February 10, MSHA published a notice clarifying the negligence and gravity criteria, as well as specifying that the alternative Good Faith reduction of an additional 20 percent would not be affected by a request for a pre-assessment conference. The comment period and rulemaking record closes on March 31.
MSHA, with SOL’s assistance, is having success reducing the backlog of contested citations and orders from a high of about 89,000 citations at the end of December, 2010, stood at to about 27,500 cases as of December 31, 2014, or a reduction of more almost 70 percent. The backlog is now well below 2008 levels.
MSHA has stepped up enforcement of miners’ rights to speak out about mine safety and health. In 2014, we filed 49 discrimination complaints, the most in MSHA history, and at least 45 actions for temporary reinstatement, the second highest number filed, exceeded only by 2012 when we filed 47.
To improve the effectiveness of our education and training program, MSHA merged its field Educational Field Services and the Small Mine Consultation Program into a single program to improve training assistance particularly for small mines and to increase the dialogue with industry stakeholders. Our realigned field staff was sent on a mission to meet with stakeholders, including NSSGA members and state aggregate associations, across the country to hear from them how we can better deliver services and enlist their assistance.
In addition since 2014, MSHA is holding quarterly conference calls with trainers across the nation, allowing MSHA to share information and get feedback on how we can help. We have a new training single source page and are collecting training programs to be made available to the training community.
We have made great progress on mine emergency response preparedness since I launched reforms in 2010 and are completing the development of state-of-the-art communications, air monitoring and tracking technologies to speed up and make safer, mine rescue efforts. Working with stakeholders we created the National Holmes Mine Rescue Association to provide national guidance and support for mine rescue. In 2013, we also declared October 30th as “Mine Rescue Day” to honor mine rescuers
As I mentioned, NSSGA leadership attended a Roundtable last October with Secretary Perez and DOL agency staff, where we discussed our shared goals of improving mine safety and health, addressing employment and training needs and preparing for the future rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.
An infrastructure bill in Congress would establish funding for needed building and repair and support new jobs, including jobs in the aggregates industry. As one attendee noted, each mile of highway construction requires 38,000 tons of aggregate material. If and when that occurs we will need to be prepared for increased investments in miner safety and health training.
MSHA organized a follow up meeting on November 25 with the industry and DOL’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETs) and Employment and Training Administration (ETA) to discuss available DOL resources for hiring veterans and assisting with recruitment and job training needs, including connecting employers with displaced miners in Appalachia. We later distributed information to stakeholders on those and are looking at next steps with the Roundtable.
In closing, while progress has been made the increases in metal and nonmetal deaths are a reminder that we have much work to do so that miners can go home at the end of each shift safe and healthy.
The progress made in recent years lets us know that greater improvements are possible and together, we need to work toward that end. We owe the nation’s miners that much. I know that President Obama and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez share this goal.