Skip to content
Remarks by Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Before the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association Annual Convention
Orlando, Florida
February 11, 2003


It's a real pleasure to be with you.

I will always value the opportunity to meet with the membership of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel association, because your organization represents such an important sector of the mining industry. With more than 10,000 mines nationwide, the health and safety performance of the aggregates industry directly impacts the well-being of 100,000 miners and their families. They are in every State for instance, more than 3,000 of those miners work right here in Florida.

Our goal in MSHA is to send every miner home safe and healthy at the end of every working day. I know you share that goal. So we in MSHA greatly value our long-standing relationship with your organization. That relationship now is set to expand with the signing today of a new agreement, establishing an innovative alliance under which MSHA and NSSGA will work together to achieve specific goals. I want to specially thank Jennifer Joy Wilson and Jim Sharpe for helping to bring about this agreement, which is a first in the mining industry. We look forward to working even more closely with NSSGA under our new alliance.

The safety record

Where do we stand, at the beginning of 2003, as we begin our new partnership?

The American mining industry has just achieved its two safest years on record. After several years of relative stagnation, in 2001 the number of mine fatalities dropped to 72, which was the lowest figure ever. Then last year, that figure came down by 5, to a new low record of 67 fatalities in U.S. mines. Non fatal injuries, too are on the way down. Our ultimate goal, of course, is zero fatalities and zero injuries. No other goal acceptable. And the mining industry clearly is headed in the right direction. You should be proud. And I know you are as determined as we are in MSHA, to keep up the momentum.

The metal and nonmetal mining sector of the industry achieved a startling new low record in 2001, 30 fatal incidents, down from 47. Last year, regretfully this sector did not equal its 2001 performance, but did match its second lowest fatality total on record, 40.

The aggregates industry, of course, is as I said the single largest sector of the metal and nonmetal mining industry. And therefore it is not surprising that the safety performance of the aggregates industry has followed the same curve as the metal and nonmetal mining industry as a whole: fatalities declined from 27 in 2000 to a record low of 17 in 2001. Then last year, we saw an increase in fatalities not back to the 2000 level but to a total of 23.

Should this increase concern us? Yes. Should we be discouraged? Absolutely not. We know that it is possible to do better. Of one thing I am certain: with your active participation, we can continue to send more miners home to their families than we ever have. And as a major sector of the industry, you have the opportunity to lead other mines in this country on the road to still greater improvements in health and safety performance.

We also should remember to monitor the trend in nonfatal injuries. At this point, we are still assembling the final data for 2003. However, it's clear that your industry has continued to reduce nonfatal injuries in its workforce. Total injuries in the aggregates industry were down from 4,092 to 3,515.

An important point to remember: with some 100,000 miners employed, it appears that last year you sent almost 98,000 of them home safely every working day. Moreover, you sent over 500 more miners home safely in 2002 than in 2001. Remember your success. To make further progress, you have to focus on what was done right, as well as where you need to make further progress.

There are outstanding aggregates operations today that show right where the whole mining industry needs to be. Some of your operations are leading lights. I understand that last year, your organization's membership included no fewer than 12 winners and runners-up in the national Sentinels of Safety award program. That is a remarkable achievement.

(By the way, when I speak of runners-up, I mean operations that finished in the top five.)

All of the winners and runners up in the Sentinels of Safety awards were free from lost-time injuries for a full year. That's a given. They also logged impressive numbers of working hours.

For instance, Hanson Aggregates' Arena Plant in Altair, Texas, totaled more than 132,000 employee-hours in 2001 without a single lost-time injury to win the bank or pit category. Martin Marietta's Weeping Water Quarry totaled almost as many hours, more than 130,000, to excel in the underground nonmetal sector.

These achievements are important. Moreover, we know there are many operations with excellent safety management programs in the aggregates industry beyond these winners. We believe it's important to applaud exemplary achievements like these, and to learn from them as well. We need to influence management and mine operators at all mines to aspire to this kind of performance, and achieve it. That's something we can do, together.

Achievements in 2002

In 2002, you should have seen, and from my conversations throughout the mining industry I believe most have you have now seen -- significant changes in the way we do business in MSHA. Throughout, a critical element has been and will continue to be the Triangle of Success. That consists of enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance. Three elements, which should be equal in importance. As I have said over and over -- that does not mean less enforcement. It means a balanced emphasis on enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance, all three of which are tools that the law gives us to influence safety and health in the mining industry.

I use that word "influence" for a specific reason.

MSHA is not there to run your operation, or to be a substitute for your safety department. The control is in your hands, as it should be. What we can do is exert influence. We can coach and encourage. We do not control.

With that in mind, we have been working through the plan that we shared with you indeed, developed with input from you and other stakeholders. To mention only some highlights: Continuing the momentum

The last two years were years of real progress. We have the momentum, and we are going to keep moving forward in 2003.

In the next year, I have told our staff in MSHA that we need to set a new standard for our response to accidents, fatal, nonfatal, and near-misses. You know, in this business it is possible to become somewhat inured and to look at some accidents as especially significant while accepting others as quote-unquote "routine" accidents. That is something we should never do!

Every incident should be a hard-hitting reminder of what we need to do. Every fatality is a tragedy; every injury hurts someone; and every near miss is a warning. I have told MSHA's managers that we need to give all serious incidents our full attention, up to the highest levels of management. And we must take incidents personally. I ask you to do the same. Let's make safety a value at every level in a mine's management organization.

Let me mention some items for the future that may be of particular interest to you.

1. MSHA's budget. For FY 2004, President Bush has requested an increase of $12.5 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. In a tight budget year, that's a signal of the importance placed on the well-being of American miners. As you probably know, we have been increasing our field positions in Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health to give this sector the attention it deserves. For FY 2004, under the proposed budget we would add 20 more positions focused on metal and nonmetal mining.

2. Egregious penalties. The Department of Labor intends to introduce legislation to allow for the assessment by MSHA of penalties up to $220,000 to address "egregious violations." This provision would be applied on a case-by-case basis and would be reserved for those violations that meet certain criteria demonstrated by those who have disrespect for the law. It would not affect penalties for the vast majority of violations, but would give the agency another tool to deal with the few cases in which mine operators expose miners to serious hazards without regard for the law.

3. Small mines safety and health office. The FY 2004 budget request includes $2.4 million and 21 positions for the establishment of an Office of Small Mines within the Educational Policy and Development program. The new office will address the specialized needs of the nearly 6,500 small mines around the country. We define a small mines as any surface or underground operation with 5 or fewer employees. As you know, most of these are in the aggregates industry. We started the new division last year with staff borrowed from various branches of MSHA. Many of you probably know Kevin Burns, who was selected to direct this effort. The proposed FY 2004 budget will establish it as a formal and lasting entity.

This new division will enable MSHA to focus its influence more effectively on this group of mines. For the last several years, the fatal injury incidence rate at small mining operations has been more than double the rate for larger mines. If we are going to move forward in this industry, we have to enlist these small mines. Accordingly, the Small Mines Office will help small mine operators improve their safety and health efforts and embrace safety and health as a value.

The Small Mines Office will provide on-site compliance assistance to small mine operators throughout the country in the several ways. The small mine office also will: You can expect to hear much more about this in the coming year.

4. Continuing improvements in compliance assistance. You can expect to see more updated and innovative training materials and more services added to the web site. (In fact, our web site is undergoing continued redesign based upon comments we receive from users, and you can expect to see its new, more user-friendly look very soon.) We are looking at adopting a ListServ function so that anyone can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates on topics of interest.

5. Review of inspection procedures. We have increased the number of inspection personnel at metal and nonmetal mines. In the coming year, we're going to be looking at ways to efficiently use our time during mine visits to get even more value and results.

6. Task analysis. For the past several months MSHA has been working with a new type of job task analysis in conjunction with the Naval Weapons Center. The system can be used to break down the most complex jobs into their component tasks. With the full participation of all personnel involved in a job, this type of task analysis has proven highly effective in identifying deficiencies in work procedures and training so they can be corrected. Typically, the employees and immediate supervisors using this system have come up with their own solutions. We also are using the system with MSHA personnel, and expect to make improvements in their training that will help them become even more effective. You'll be hearing more about it in the future.

The agency is continuing development of a web-based MSHA Standardized Information system (MSIS) that would replace several obsolete management information systems. This will improve access to data by the Agency and the public, provide online reporting capability, and help to develop new tactics to promote health and safety.

7. Finally a new type of partnership in the mining industry

Our New Alliance Agreement

In a few minutes, Jennifer Joy Wilson and I are going to be signing a new partnership agreement between MSHA and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association that is truly pioneering.

And it is not surprising that NSSGA leads the way.

Our organizations have always had a good working relationship. It has only strengthened in recent years. To mention only a few examples of cooperative compliance assistance efforts: Against the background of safety and health leadership on NSSGA's part, I am especially pleased that MSHA and NSSGA have now developed an innovative and far-reaching agreement to promote the health and safety of miners in the stone, sand and gravel industries. For the next two years, the agreement will use our collective expertise to help foster a culture of prevention by sharing best practices and technical knowledge.

For the first time MSHA and an industry association have jointly agreed to adopt mine safety and health performance goals with objective performance metrics. This alone is precedent-setting.

To achieve these goals, we will work together to provide NSSGA members with information, education and training, and technical assistance to help them prevent injuries and illnesses and protect miners' safety and health. We also will expand outreach and communications on mine safety and health matters.

Under the agreement MSHA and NSSGA also will work together to achieve education and training goals. We will develop training and education programs on reducing and preventing mine hazards. We will develop and share best practices and effective approaches to improve mine safety and health.

In the area of technical assistance, we will conduct evaluations of applied engineering to improve mine safety and health. We also will conduct analyses to identify potentially hazardous health and safety conditions to which the Alliance should direct particular attention and resources.

Outreach, communication and national dialogue will be a critical aspect of our common effort. We plan to develop and disseminate information on mine safety and health at conferences, events, or through media including links from MSHA's and NSSGA's Web sites. MSHA and NSSGA leaders will both work to raise others' awareness of and demonstrate their own commitment to mine safety and health.

We are jointly committing to share information on best practices and effective approaches with others in the mining industry through individual or joint outreach and through MSHA- or NSSGA-developed training programs and materials. We intend to perform mine safety and health case studies and publicize their results through print or electronic media, promotion at conferences, or other means of outreach.

And we plan to get the word out through print or electronic media, at conferences and by other means of outreach. We'll also convene or participate in forums, round table discussions, or stakeholder meetings on opportunities to help forge innovative solutions to challenging safety and health issues in mines or to provide input on such issues.

We plan to place special emphasis on cooperatively working with state aggregate associations in helping them improve the health and safety working conditions for their members' employees.

I am especially pleased and proud that we have reached this agreement because it is the first of its kind in the mining industry. NSSGA again is showing its leadership. We hope this will be only the first of many such agreements in the mining industry.

Jennifer Joy Wilson and Jim Sharpe, as I mentioned, have given largely of their time and attention as we developed this agreement. Mark Ellis of my staff, whom many of you may know, also has been instrumental. Now an implementation team made up of representatives of both organizations will meet to develop a plan of action, determine working procedures, and identify the roles and responsibilities of the participants. They will meet at least quarterly to track and share information on activities and results in achieving the goals of the Alliance.

This agreement reflects all aspects of the Triangle of Success, and there is one key phrase in the agreement that says it all: "We need a culture of prevention."

That is what we are trying to achieve, in MSHA, among NSSGA members, and in the mining industry as a whole. Not just to react when things go wrong, but to foster prevention at every level - learning from success, not just from our failures.

This agreement is a major step in that direction. I commend you for leading the way. I look forward to seeing this agreement come alive. And I look forward to the results that we will achieve.

Thank you. I'll be pleased to answer any questions you may have.