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Remarks of Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave D. Lauriski
Mine Safety and Health Administration
20th Annual Ironworkers Training/Alliance Signing
San Diego, CA
July 18, 2004

Thank you, Walt, for your kind introduction. I am delighted to be here in San Diego, where the weather always seems to be perfect. What a great place to hold a training program!

And thank you, President Hunt, for recognizing the value in this joint alliance between MSHA and the Ironworkers Union. MSHA and the Ironworkers Union have enjoyed a mutually-beneficial, close cooperation since 2000, and the formalizing of our alliance today will ensure that we can work even more closely with each other to preserve and enhance the safety of miners and ironworkers. I know we will accomplish great things together!

This is our second alliance with a labor organization - the second in what I hope will be a long list of alliances with organizations that share in our goals and want to join forces to instill a culture of prevention at each and every job site and mine around the country. As Walt and I have already mentioned, MSHA and the Ironworkers have been working together since 2000, when 32 of your members attended classes at MSHA's Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia, to become qualified instructors under the Mine Safety and Health Act. The Ironworkers Training Fund worked with MSHA to develop training materials, and now about 160 ironworkers are certified instructors under the Mine Act. They in turn have trained more than 2,000 ironworkers to work on the surface and underground at mine sites around the country. That means more than 2,000 ironworkers are safer today because we worked together to keep them that way. And the number keeps growing.

But other numbers are shrinking - and that's good. Your focus on safety for your members has paid off. I understand that fatalities among ironworkers dropped to their lowest level ever last year - proof that focusing on safety and educating workers is a strategy that reaps positive results.

Mine safety and health numbers are dropping, too. Since calendar year 2000, there has been a 34 percent drop in the number of mining fatalities, and a 25 percent drop in the number of injuries.

Every year, we continue to send more workers home safe, healthy and whole to their families. And MSHA and the Ironworkers, working together, will continue to march toward our ultimate goal: zero fatalities and injuries, and an end to occupational illness. We can get there - we all know it.

And the training you are conducting here this week will continue to educate ironworkers on the important fundamentals of working smart and working safely, of staying safe and healthy in the workplace, so they can continue to go home to their families every day. I believe strongly in the value of cooperative relationships like alliances. These relationships are valuable tools for everyone - for MSHA, for our partners, and for workers. No one of us is as smart or efficient or effective as all of us together - and in alliances, we can pool our knowledge and our resources, and bring different perspectives to bear on our common problems to find common solutions.

This alliance will allow us to collaborate on safety and health improvement techniques in structural steel erection, welding, rigging, reinforcing, fall protection, concrete erection, and demolition - some of the most hazardous work in our respective fields.

We will expand the communication between MSHA and the Ironworkers Union, pooling our knowledge and sharing information, not only with each other but with contractors and others in the industry. Through our alliance we will be able to identify and promote best practices to improve safety and health on and near mine construction projects. We will also collaborate on emergency response, rescue and recovery techniques for construction and demolition sites, a field of critical national interest.

The training programs of MSHA and the Ironworkers Union reach thousands each year. We will optimize the use of MSHA's Academy and the Ironworkers' national Instructor Training and Regional Training Programs to reach more workers with our joint message of instilling an active culture of prevention, rather than reaction, in our workplaces. In fact, I know your Safety and Health Department has already taken on the management and implementation of training programs to meet MSHA training requirements.

MSHA and the Ironworkers Union will make every effort to spread the word, share the results of our partnership, and gather input from others interested in workplace safety and health. We will convene or participate in forums, round table discussions and stakeholder meetings to gather more information about what others are doing and together forge innovative solutions We want people to hear of our successes and learn from all that we do. The more we can spread the word, the more we can teach others, the more we can learn from others, the safer our workplaces will become.

And in our collaboration, we will also identify potentially hazardous safety and health conditions and practices to which our alliance should direct particular attention and resources. Once we can identify problems, we can work together to solve them, our different perspectives bringing value to the table and interest to the process.

Today MSHA and the Ironworkers Union have joined forces to keep workers safe and healthy on the job. We both have a wealth of safety and health knowledge and experience, and we share a common goal, and this alliance will help us make our shared vision a reality: safe and healthy workers going home at the end of every shift every day.

Thank you again for making this alliance possible and, most importantly, thank you for all you do to ensure the health and safety of ironworkers all across this great land.