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Remarks of Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave D. Lauriski
Mine Safety and Health Administration
State Coal Summit 2004
Beckley, WV
July 22, 2004

Good afternoon. I'm glad I could make it here in time to spend a few minutes with you at the conclusion of our first - and I hope the first of many - state coal summits. It is evident that there has been a good exchange of information and ideas here at our first summit for state coal mining agencies.

I hope this is the catalyst for continual dialogue in your respective areas, and I also hope we can make this summit an annual event. I am highly impressed with the turnout - 16 representatives of 10 different states from all around the country. I'm glad that you were able to come and share your experiences with us and with each other. I hear from the feedback that you have found it a useful and productive forum, and I know MSHA folks have as well.

I appreciate the work that our Coal Mine Safety and Health Division did to bring this meeting to fruition and I surely appreciate your participation. This summit has been a "first" in many ways. It is the first State Coal Summit we have held. It is the first opportunity I have had to address you as a group and it is first time that we have come together to address together many of our mining problems throughout the United States. And I believe it is the first time you have had the opportunity to meet as a group and share your experiences. I sincerely hope this meeting is the beginning of a long string of successful, cooperative, educational meetings among those of us who are charged with promoting, enforcing and overseeing safety in the nation's mines.

I know you recognize that we all have a common goal. Our goal is encapsulated in one word: zero. We all want to see zero fatalities, zero injuries, zero occupational illness in the mining industry. We have dedicated our careers and our lives to achieving that goal - and at this summit we were able to come together and share our thoughts, ideas and experiences on how we can do that.

The coal industry is beginning to flourish after years of declining revenues. Coal demand and prices are at a new high. This is great for the market, but it creates many new challenges for all of us, especially in the area of mine safety and health. The demand for increased coal production will generate a need for more and new miners, development of new reserves or rehabilitation of previously abandoned reserves, and extended use of fixed facilities such as preparation plants, surface shops, and load outs. New technology will be developed to augment the production needs, and we must be prepared to evaluate, adapt and implement the technology in a manner that also enhances the safety and health of the miners. What some will see as challenges we must view as opportunities: opportunities to ingrain a culture not only of safety but of prevention into the new work force, opportunities to proactively develop drug free work places through screening and moral expectations, and opportunities to employ new types of communication and relationships with our stakeholders.

You have touched on some of these most difficult issues during the last couple of days. Although resolution to these problems may sometimes seem difficult to achieve, our willingness to tackle and resolve these issues will determine the success of our ultimate goal. This is our duty as mine health and safety professionals. Substance abuse, safety systems, problem solving groups, recertification of foremen, the upsurge in new miners and the training issues accompanying them are all hot button items that deserve our attention and commitment. The people sitting at the tables in this room have the knowledge, expertise and experience to help our country meet its energy needs without mitigating the safety and health of our miners. Coal miners are known for their innovation and ability to turn obstacles into bridges. We are no different. Success is within our grasp if we are willing to accept change, commit to total communication and take more interest in overall success than individual accomplishments.

As you've heard at this summit, MSHA itself is in the process of changing to meet the realities, needs and demands of mine safety and health in the 21st century. As this country's appetite for mining products - coal, minerals, metals - has grown, the mining industry has changed to reflect the demand. There are fewer miners than ever before - a drop of 8 percent over the last three years alone, but more production coming from the mines. The injury rates are down to historically low levels, having dropped 25 percent over the last three years. Fatality rates have fallen even more dramatically, dropping to record low levels in each of the last three consecutive years. I think that means we are all doing something right.

But that doesn't mean we should rest on our laurels. My challenge to you is to continue to do the right thing - and more. Injury rates are down: but there are still injuries. Fatality rates are down: but there are still fatalities. One is too many. One injury, one fatality - one too many. We want to see zero. We all do. We can see zero, it is within our grasp - and working together, I believe we can make it a reality.

We here at MSHA are continuing to look at more ways to do more, to do it right, to do it better. Right now we are involved in a deep-seated change from the bottom up - from inside out - to institutionalize the progress we've made in finding innovative ways to work with others to continue to bring mining injuries, illnesses and fatalities down. We are in the midst of an internal strategic planning process that will give us a roadmap to the future MSHA - a 21st century MSHA that embraces partners all along the spectrum of the mining community.

Partnership and cooperation are key components of this agency's 21st century strategy. Partnership and cooperation help us all maximize our resources. As the saying goes, "No man is an island." Well, no government agency is an island either, and no government agency can go it alone to do all that needs to be done. We all must look for opportunities to multiply our resources, to partner with each other, to learn from each other and help each other.

I know you have had extensive discussions about the value of the collaboration and cooperation between MSHA and your respective state agencies. I understand you have seen the Dotiki Mine video. That is a prime example of the success of cooperative efforts among state, MSHA and mine personnel to solve a problem and get people back to work. I think it is a great example of problem-solving strategies in action. No one entity could have solved the problem - it took all of us, working together, to make it happen, to fix the problem, to get miners back to work. And we all did it in record time. Together.

MSHA is extending the hand of cooperation and collaboration to other partners within the mining industry. We have developed a number of strategic partnerships with key stakeholders in the mining community and associated industries. Trade associations, labor unions, and professional societies are recognizing the advantage of working directly with MSHA rather than independently to reach health and safety goals. They, too, understand that we can work better together than apart, and they are demonstrating their commitment by signing alliance agreements which go further than just putting pen to paper. For example: These partnerships, initiatives and outreach programs are a part of MSHA's Triangle of Success: using a balanced approach to mine safety and health that includes technical assistance, education and training, and enforcement - all incorporating compliance assistance as part of the approach.

All of us in the mining community have the same goal and purpose. That's why working together and pooling our experience and talents can made such a real difference in the lives of the people we serve. We want to be partners in achieving the common vision we all share - having miners return home safe and healthy to their loved ones at the end of every working day. I am proud to stand here and join with you so that we can all move forward into the future together.