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MSHA Update
Remarks by Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Before the 26th Mine Safety and Health Conference
North Carolina Department of Labor, Mine and Quarry Bureau
Wilmington, North Carolina
March 27, 2003

I. Introduction

Thank you, James, for that kind introduction. It's a pleasure to be with you this morning. Thank you for the invitation.

I am delighted to have this opportunity for several of us in MSHA to meet with participants from throughout the North Carolina mining industry, as well as key officials of the North Carolina Department of Labor and its Mine and Quarry Bureau: Commission Cherie Berry, Deputy Commissioner John Johnson, as well as James Turner and his deputy, William Gerringer.

MSHA and the North Carolina Department of Labor's Mine and Quarry Bureau have a long tradition of cooperation. We are continuing that tradition and will strengthen that partnership in the year to come.

II. History

I notice that here in Wilmington tomorrow, the Cape Fear Museum is holding its annual "History Day" for students.

I wonder how many students know about North Carolina's mining history. For instance, how many of you knew that North Carolina led the U.S. in gold production until the Gold Rush of 1848? (That's something I just learned recently!)

And surely, few people know that North Carolina made mining history as the first State to fund a geological and mineralogical survey. In 1923, the North Carolina legislature appropriated $500 to find out what mineral wealth the State might hold. Today, North Carolina mining is a half-billion dollar industry.

The U.S. mining industry has made history in the past two years, by achieving the safest two years on record. Mine fatalities dropped to a historic low of 67 last year.

And North Carolina mines last year achieved the goal of zero fatal injuries. That is making history in the best sense. Congratulations!

III. Vision/Goals

Our ultimate vision, of course, is zero fatalities and zero injuries. No other goal is 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 as we reach for the next step to zero.

Specific performance goals are always important to make sure a program stays on track. MSHA has adopted specific performance goals to reduce the fatal injury incidence rate by 15% per year and to reduce the all-injury incidence rate 50% below the FY 2000 baseline by the end of FY 2005.

We also have three additional health-related performance goals for coal dust, silica dust and noise.

MSHA recently entered a new phase. We are working, step by step, through a detailed plan that has brought a new vision for MSHA to life.

Before developing a plan, we knew there was only way it could work - it had to have the support of our stakeholders and our MSHA employees.

We also knew that to make progress, we need to increase the results from every hour of our time and every dollar of resources that we invest in miner safety and health. And to accomplish that, we needed to look at the way we use those resources with the goal of making MSHA a better managed agency.

We used input from both our stakeholders and employees throughout the Nation as we developed a plan to accomplish this. Today, we are executing the plan.

IV. MSHA's Management Plan

Like all Federal agencies MSHA is working under the umbrella of the President Bush's long-term management agenda for improving the overall management and performance of the Federal government.

In the broadest terms, the President has called for all Federal agencies to become: In line with the comments of our stakeholders and the President's guidelines, we created our roadmap to a new MSHA.

Our plan provides us with a list of specific objectives and guidelines in every area of MSHA's activity. The plan provides guidance for external issues: enforcement, education and training, technical services, and compliance assistance.

It also provides objectives covering internal management issues. MSHA needs to set an example to stakeholders. Accordingly, we set goals to reduce MSHA own rate of employee injuries and compensation costs. If we are asking industry to do something, we in MSHA need to be willing to do the same things in our own organization.

Under the Mine Act, MSHA's mission is to prevent death, injury and illness. In carrying out that responsibility we should serve as a catalyst for continual improvement in safety and health performance. The control is in your hands, as it should be. We can influence, we can coach and encourage, but we do not control.

In the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Congress incorporated several tools for the agency to use in order to influence safety and health in the industry. However, for most of the years since 1978, MSHA concentrated on one of those tools: enforcement. In the 1990's, however, safety progress slowed. As a result, in the past two years, we have recognized that MSHA needs all the tools provided in the law to move ahead.

A critical element in MSHA's management plans has been and will continue to be a balanced approach to how we do our job that consists of enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance -- three elements, equal in importance, and which form our "Triangle of Success."

As I have said many times -- 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 carry out the mission of the Mine Act. The Triangle of Success has guided every step of our plan for MSHA.

That plan calls for us to break barriers that have existed and form new partnerships that can carry the U.S. mining industry on the next step to zero. Just as North Carolina has instituted its new Mining STAR program, MSHA also is reaching out to form new partnerships to reach our common goals.

V. The Plan in Action: A New MSHA

We have made these changes with the full support of Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao who takes a personal interest in the health and safety of miners and of all American workers.

Secretary Chao has established a 21st Century Workforce Initiative, whose goal is to ensure that all American workers have as fulfilling and financially rewarding a career as they aspire to have, and to make sure that no worker gets left behind in the limitless potential of the dynamic, global economy of this new millennium. She also has set specific objectives for each workplace - that it is safe, healthy and fair. She is very involved and supportive of mine safety and health.

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. Stakeholders in North Carolina and elsewhere have given us positive feedback on the "New MSHA. "

We have strengthened compliance assistance and made it integral to every element in the Triangle of Success: enforcement, education and training, and technical assistance.

  • We developed a Compliance Assistance Plan, which outlines significant increases in compliance assistance and establishes specific time frames for accomplishing each initiative in the plan. For instance, during six months of 2002, compliance assistance outreach seminars were conducted at 524 metal and nonmetal mines, with attendance of nearly 35,000.

  • We have incorporated compliance assistance into all our interactions. We established the concept that compliance assistance is an integral part of everything we do.

  • We have strengthened information outreach.

  • We added to the usable data on our Web page --- for instance, we added the standards responsible for the most frequent citations along with safety tips and best practices. More mine operators and contractors are using electronic filing through MSHA's Web page. In addition, MSHA's data retrieval system is one of the most frequently visited.

  • We are now providing links on MSHA's web site to mining companies that are willing to share their safety material and best practices. This is a great opportunity for award-winning mines and others with exemplary safety records to share their techniques for success with others.

  • We are revising and updating all our training materials -- using new technology like DVD and Web-based interactive training.

  • Materials on MSHA's web page are now available in Spanish -- and we are translating our training materials into Spanish.

  • We established a small mines safety and health office.

    We started this new office last year with staff borrowed from various branches of MSHA. Some of you probably know Kevin Burns, who was selected to direct this effort.

    The new office will address the specialized needs of the approximately 6,500 small mines around the country with 5 or fewer employees, including about 100 small mines in North Carolina.

    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, we will provide assistance to help small mine operators improve their safety and health efforts and embrace safety and health as a value.

    The Small Mines Safety and Health Office provides on-site compliance assistance to small mine operators throughout the country in the several ways.

  • Demonstrate that an investment in safety and health is good business.

  • Help small mines to develop and maintain an effective safety and health program to fit their company's needs.

  • Maintain regular contact with small mine owners by telephone, email, fax, letters and follow-up visits.

  • Make small mine owners aware of other sources of assistance and help them use these resources.

  • The small mine office also is moving to:

  • Develop partnerships with small mine stakeholder organizations and jointly sponsor seminars and workshops highlighting the value of effective safety and health programs.

  • Develop training materials and information resources on the Web tailored to small mine operations;

  • Identify regulations that create an undue burden on small mine operators and develop alternate ways to provide the same level of protection; and

  • Provide the framework to effectively and efficiently manage the compliance assistance efforts of MSHA aimed at helping small mine operators.

  • Staff in the Small Mines Safety and Health Office have already visited more than 380 small mines around the country. Among other activities, they are distributing a starter kit that contains information for obtaining compliance assistance and training, as well as information on basic regulations. We have received a number of positive comments from mine operators who have told us that it simplifies their safety, health and compliance tasks.

    The President's proposed FY 2004 budget will establish the Small Mines Safety and Health Office as a formal and lasting entity. For FY 2004, President Bush has requested $2.4 million and 21 positions for the office.

    We signed the first Alliance agreement in the mining industry.

    In a significant milestone last month, MSHA and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association signed 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 cooperate in achieving common mine safety and health performance goals with objective performance metrics. This is precedent-setting.

    We also 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. We hope this will be only the first of many such agreements.

    Mine operators and miners should be seeing MSHA's changed approach in every interaction.

         --Talking with every mine employee encountered during an inspection, to discuss hazard recognition, safe work practices, accident prevention and current problematic trends.

         --Reviewing previous injuries and fatalities that are meaningful to the individuals being visited.

         --Listening to what the miners and operators have to say relative to accident prevention, to include any concerns they may have about the safety process at their mine.

    To make compliance assistance a part of every inspection:

         -MSHA personnel analyze and use incidence rate and violation history data to identify trends being experienced at each mine property. They share the findings during pre-inspection conferences to serve as a guide and road map during the inspection process.

         --Special focus is given on hazard recognition and work practices throughout each work area visited.

         -In conducting compliance assistance activities during each mine visit, inspection personnel place emphasis on current issues responsible for accidents and fatalities.

         -Specialists do simple root cause analyses on compliance problems and share them with all mine employees.

         --When needed, technical assistance is made available to help solve compliance problems. For instance, in Fiscal Year 2002, technical support personnel visited four dimension stone quarries in North Carolina to provide assistance in reducing noise exposures of rock drill operators. After detailed noise surveys they make recommendations, which can be simple and low cost - such as improved sound insulation of noise barriers, or installing a viewing window in a noise barrier so that the drill operator can stay behind the barrier at all times.

    Learning from incidents

    In 2002 we had the rescue of nine miners from the flooded Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania, an event that focused the attention and recognition of the whole nation, and indeed the whole world, for all that is best in the American mining industry. As a result of this incident, we have focused on ways to better identify the location of old workings that can create a hazard for miners. We held a technical symposium that identified some promising new technologies that are being further explored. Quecreek also provided an experience of success like no other. We need to remember that, and look for more opportunities to recognize our success in mine safety, in all mining sectors.

    We have also learned from internal management reviews of the agency's activities following two severe incidents -- the Martin County coal slurry spill that occurred in October 2000, and the Jim Walter Mine explosion in 2001. Although these incidents occurred at coal mines, they provided lessons that can be applied throughout MSHA. The purpose of the internal reviews was to conduct a critical self-examination to determine how MSHA management practices could be improved. We have been very open about the fact that weaknesses were uncovered and have shared the results widely. As a result MSHA is making important improvements in its management process, including:

    1. A nationwide mentoring program for new inspectors and supervisors;

    2. Revisions in the agency's inspection manual;

    3. Additional training for enforcement personnel on appropriate levels of enforcement; and

    4. Increased management oversight at the district and national levels.

    VI. Measures and Results

    Now let's turn to the bottom line: results.

    This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

    Let me ask for a show of hands - how many people here this evening were part of the mining industry back in 1978?

    In that case, you remember as I do, when MSHA was created in the Department of Labor. For the first time, safety and health in the metal and nonmetal mining industry and the coal mining industry were joined under one legislative roof.

    Since then, mining fatalities in this country have declined from 242 in 1978 to the record low of 67 last year, a decrease of 72 percent.

    In the past two years, we have seen the results of our plan for MSHA. The American mining industry has just achieved its two safest years on record. After several years of relative stagnation, the number of mine fatalities dropped to a new low record of 72 in 2001 and then to 67 last year. That means we sent 18 more miners home safely to their families in a safe and healthy condition over the past two years.

    Comparing the two-year period of 1999-2000 to the two-year period of 2001-2002, mining fatalities declined by 21 percent.

    Injuries also are on the decline. Comparing the two-year period of 1999-2000 to the two-year period of 2001-2002, non-fatal lost-day injuries at all mines declined 13 percent.

    MSHA's inspection completion rate is higher than at any time in the recent past, and we are spending more time at each mine, with results.

    North Carolina's mines have performed especially well. The fatality record last year could not have been better. Zero!

    In addition, preliminary figures indicate that the rate of nonfatal days-lost injuries in North Carolina has dropped from 2.00 in the year 2000 to 1.44 last year, a decline of 28 percent.

    You are setting an example for others, and you should be proud. I know we all share the same goal, to maintain that record and that trend.

    VII. Looking Ahead

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

    1. MSHA's budget. MSHA's budget for FY 2003 provides $260 million plus $13 million for special projects--$10 million for research on old mine workings and digitizing maps, and $3 million for impoundment research.

    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. The proposed 2004 budget would add 20 more positions for metal and nonmetal mine safety and health specialists as well as 35 positions for coal mine safety and health specialists. It also requests $2.4 million and 21 positions for the Office of Small Mines Safety and Health, as I mentioned, within the Educational Policy and Development program.

    2. Continuous improvement philosophy. You can expect to see continuing emphasis on compliance assistance, including more updated and innovative training materials and more services added to the web site. Our web site is undergoing continued redesign based upon comments we receive from users. We are also looking at adopting a ListServ function so that anyone can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates on topics of interest.

    3. Review of inspection procedures. We're looking at ways to efficiently use our time during mine visits to get even more value and results. We want to focus our efforts at mines or areas of mines where we can effect the best return on our investment.

    4. Improved training for MSHA personnel.

  • MSHA has some of the finest mine safety and health professionals in the world, and we are encouraging all MSHA personnel to continue their professional development on an ongoing basis.

  • 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.

  • VIII: A culture of prevention

    There is a key phrase in the agreement that MSHA recently signed with the NSSGA that says, "We need a culture of prevention."

    We need to make safety a value - a central thing, a part of us, deeply held, like our patriotism, like our caring for our families, like the value we put on a day's work for a day's pay.

    We need to maintain the attitude that no incident is "routine" -- every incident, whether or not it results in a serious injury -- is a message from which we can learn.

    Moreover, we need to learn from success, not just from our failures.

    We need to learn from our award winning mines, and from incidents like the rescue of the nine miners from the Quecreek Mine.

    The whole U.S. mining industry can learn from your success last year in working all year without a fatal mining incident in the State, from your success in reducing nonfatal incidents, and from the exemplary mines that will be flying the flag of North Carolina's Mining STAR program.

    The exemplars of mine safety and health have shown what can be done with teamwork, commitment, determination - to achieve our common goal - to send every miner home safe and healthy at the end of every working day.

    Congratulations on your achievements last year-- keep up the good work! The momentum is truly behind us. Let's build on it.

    Thank you.