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Remarks of Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave D. Lauriski
Before the 77th Annual Sentinels of Safety Awards Presentation
Washington, DC
October 2, 2003

Good afternoon.

Thank you for that kind introduction.

And thank you, to our co-sponsors, the National Mining Association, for hosting this luncheon and awards celebration, and for your collaboration, once again, in honoring this year's winners of the prestigious Sentinels of Safety award.

I'd also like to extend my thanks to MSHA's audio/visual staff based at our Mine Academy in Beckley, West Virginia, for putting together the impressive video we watched during lunch. There were some incredible shots in that film; it really made me proud to be part of such a dynamic industry.

I am so pleased to be here to help recognize eight organizations for their extremely noteworthy accomplishments in the area of mine health and safety.

These are mining operations that collectively have worked nearly two million employee hours without a lost-time injury.

The Sentinels of Safety winners demonstrate what it takes to achieve an injury-free work record and, have done so since the inception of the award in 1925.

This is the 77th year we are honoring the most stellar and safety-conscious mine operations around the country.

And in just a few moments, you'll see a video montage showcasing these "stars" in action.

The number "77" is worth noting in another context as well.

This year, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, legislation which created MSHA.

This Act set the basic framework for all that we do in the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

We've made a lot of progress - 72 percent fewer fatals - injury rates down by 49 percent.

The industry should be proud.

The winners of the 2002 Sentinels of Safety are truly champions of safety in the mining industry, and have played a significant role in the achievements this industry has made.

You have demonstrated that, in such a dynamic industry, it is indeed possible to work safely, and to send your employees home at the end of every shift in a healthy and safe condition.

Some of you even have shown it can be done year after year. Among this year's top winners, two companies are repeat champions:

Sweetwater Mine won previously in 1999, 1998 and 1988 in the underground metal category.

Mississippi Potash West Mine also took top honors in 1998 and 1994, in the underground nonmetal category.

If mines like these can achieve injury-free work records years after year, so can others. You, the winners, are the role models. You set the bar, and often you raise that bar.

We're also here to honor many other mines around this nation that worked the entire year last year without a lost-time injury.

All these injury-free mines are receiving certificates for their work records in 2002. Many of them also are notable for repeating their consistent safe work records from year to year . They are:

-- Paramont Coal Co.'s VICC No. 7 Mine, Coeburn, Virginia
-- U.S. Gypsum Co.'s Sperry Mine, Sperry, Iowa
-- Northshore Mining Co.'s Northshore Mine, Babbitt, Minnesota
-- Phelps Dodge's Sierrita Mine, Green Valley, Arizona, and
-- Hanson Aggregates' Lower Burrell Plant, New Kensington, Pennsylvania

Since I've been with MSHA, I have made it a priority to get out and meet with our stakeholders in the mining industry. I've had the pleasure of visiting a number of last year's Sentinels of Safety winners.

I've talked one-on-one with dozens of miners at these operations.

Each time, I'm struck by the level of commitment miners and mine operators demonstrate to maintain a safe and healthy work environment.

In each case, they have recognized the planning, knowledge, experience and skill required to maintain such a level of safety and health, along with teamwork from all levels of the organization. And they make safety a core value in their operations.

The Sentinels of Safety winners also demonstrate a willingness to improve -- by constantly focusing on the task at hand and on potential hazards. Ours is an industry with no room for complacency.

I look forward to another round of mine visits with this year's winners.

And I want to emphasize that we in the Mine Safety and Health Administration are committed to providing you with all the assistance you may need to maintain your sterling records.

One of our goals is to see the number of mines achieving such high standards grow each year.

In fact, I am pleased to announce that MSHA and the National Mining Association will jointly conduct a review of the current eligibility criteria, including possible expansion of the program in 2004.

Once again, congratulations to each one of you here today representing the collective performance of your company's workers.

Please extend my warm wishes to all your employees when you return home.

I want them to know that we value this award as much as they do.

Thank you for coming today and let's continue to send more miners home safely in the coming months.

God bless America and God bless our nation's miners.

News Release