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Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave D. Lauriski
Hallett Materials
Sentinels of Safety Awards Banquet
Houston, Texas
December 10, 2003

Good evening everyone.

Thank you for that kind introduction.

First of all, I'd like to thank Frank Johnson and his colleagues for arranging the tour this morning at the Porter Plant and Pit. I enjoyed meeting with the miners and seeing for myself why this is such a stellar operation.

Secondly, I appreciate the opportunity to join in this evening's celebration. I know that all of you must be extremely proud of your accomplishments, and I want you to know that we at MSHA share in your pride.

And I would like to thank Montgomery Chamber of Commerce for recognizing this outstanding accomplishment of Hallett Materials, by hosting this event.

Hallett Materials is one of eight mining operations to receive the 2002 Sentinels of Safety Award. Think about this. You are one of the eight out of 14,000 mines in the U.S.

You may not be aware, but collectively, these eight companies worked nearly two million employee hours without a lost-time injury last year. And your record of 90,595 injury-free hours stands out among all dredge operations as the best.

That is an incredible accomplishment.

The Sentinels of Safety winners effectively demonstrate what it takes to achieve an injury-free work record. They have done so for 77 years, since the inception of the award in 1925.

In many people's minds, it is the World Series of safety awards. Or if you'd prefer, the Super Bowl of safety awards. Either way, it is the most prestigious award of its kind.

This year, at MSHA, we did some celebrating of our own. We marked the 25th anniversary of the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, legislation which created our Agency.

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

We've certainly made a great deal of progress - 72 percent fewer fatals, and injury rates are down by 49 percent.

As we near the end of the calendar year, we stand to break records yet again with regard to the number that will be returning home to their families in a healthy and safe condition.

We are very proud.

The industry should be proud.

You should be proud, and your families should be proud. And I know that Jim Rasmussen, the person who set the standard for safety excellence at Hallett, would be extremely proud.

As a recipient of a Sentinels of Safety award, you truly are champions of safety in the mining industry, and whether you know it or not, have played a significant role in the achievements this industry has made.

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

You, the winners, are the role models. You set the bar, and often you raise that bar.

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 this year's Sentinels of Safety winners.

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

Each time, just as I was today, 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. Just as Hallett has.

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.

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 that the number of mines achieving such high standards grows each year.

In fact, MSHA and the National Mining Association have agreed to jointly conduct a review of the current eligibility criteria, including possible expansion of the Sentinels program in 2004.

I would also like to commend Hallett Materials for becoming a willing partner in our "Best Practices" initiative that had its pilot program last spring - we call it the Stakeholders' Best Practices Initiative.

Each member of the team - which represented companies with excellent safety and health records - was charged with developing one safety best practice and one health best practice.

We encouraged the teams to use the practices they had adopted at their own operations, and then to share this information with mines throughout the country.

The pilot project was a great success. Three best practices, which were finalized by MSHA's Technical Support staff, are on view on our web site.

In 2004, we will expand this initiative to include all the Sentinels of Safety winners.

So Hallett Materials will be an integral part of this initiative.

Through your example, other companies will be able to improve upon their own health and safety records.

Who knows? Maybe one of them will be a Sentinels of Safety winner in the near future. Once again, my deep congratulations to each one of you here today.

As I said earlier, we value this award as much as you do, and I am so very honored to be able to be here to celebrate your success with you.

Let's continue to send more miners home safely in the coming months.

And so, it is with pride that I now present, on behalf of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the prestigious Sentinels of Safety to Hallett Materials Porter Plant for working 90,595 injury-free hours.

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