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Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave D. Lauriski
78th Annual Sentinels of Safety Awards Presentation
MINExpo 2004
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 28, 2004

Good morning.

Thank you, Jack, for that kind introduction.

And a special thank you and sincere appreciation to the entire staff of the National Mining Association, for organizing this breakfast banquet and, for that matter, putting together a truly impressive exposition.

This represents the fourth consecutive year I've been involved in the Sentinels of Safety awards banquet. I feel very honored to be included in this celebration. Being in the midst of all of you is a humbling experience for me, and reminds me how grateful I am to be a member of the mining community.

I'm pleased also to be taking part in one of the many panel sessions being held this week. Later this morning, I'll be joining my colleagues from Consol, NIOSH, and Stillwater Mining, where I'll discuss the pivotal role MSHA's stakeholders play in transforming mining into an industry free of fatalities, injuries and illnesses. I look forward to seeing you there.

I'd like to take a moment to express my gratitude to Jack Gerard and David Young, for their support and participation in the alliance agreement we signed a few minutes ago. And I want to also recognize and thank Joe Lamonica and Bruce Watzman for their leadership role in implementing this historic agreement. MSHA has always had a strong and steady relationship with the NMA and BCOA. This agreement just serves to seal that relationship.

I am confident that this formal alliance will only strengthen those bonds that already exist. And that, in the words of the agreement, we will "commit to a collaborative relationship to foster a culture of injury prevention and dedicate the necessary resources to address the prevailing safety and health challenges of the mining industry."

And now, I'd like to shift gears and say a few words about the organizations we're here to honor today.

I am extremely pleased to help recognize these eight mining operations for their noteworthy accomplishments in mine health and safety.

These are mines that collectively have worked more than three million employee hours without a lost-time injury.

To say that is an impressive number is putting it mildly.

These eight companies have demonstrated that in an industry as dynamic as mining, it is indeed possible to achieve an injury-free work record.

The winners of the 2003 Sentinels of Safety are truly champions of safety and health in the mining industry, and have played no small role in the overall achievements the industry has made.

Consider this:

Between 2000 and 2003, mining fatalities dropped 34 percent. The fatal incident rate dropped by 28 percent to the lowest levels since 1910, when statistics were first recorded. In that same time period, the all-injury incident rate dropped 18 percent. Consequently, the mining industry is experiencing its best safety record in history. Each one of the 2003 Sentinels of Safety winners have earned this award by implementing safety measures that have been tailored specifically for their organization. And they've successfully reaped the benefits of those initiatives.

In some cases, quite consistently, because we have a number of repeat honorees in this year's group.

At Beaver Gap E-3 Coal Mine near Hazard, Kentucky, workers abide by the safety slogan "Take 2 for Safety," which means to take two minutes or two hours - however long it takes - to consider all the hazards involved before undertaking a particular job.

Swift Creek Mine in northern Florida has its own SWAT team as in, Safer Workplaces Achieved Together. This is a safety process that promotes positive changes in behavior. The miners also take part in safety meetings every single day. Swift Creek was a Sentinels runner-up in both 1998 and 1999.

Greens Creek Mine in Juneau, Alaska may be off the beaten path for some, but they've come a long way technologically. When I visited the underground metal operation earlier this year, I was struck by the high-tech equipment they have on hand.

I watched as one of the workers there remotely operated a very sophisticated mucking machine to remove blasted rock. I told him that this was the first such remote mucking operation I had seen in any of the mines I had visited during my time in office. Greens Creek holds a trophy for a Sentinels win in 1997, and was a runner-up in 1996.

Morton Salt, not to be outdone, has a virtual reality training program to teach operators how to use their new continuous mining machine. Morton Salt was a 1996 Sentinels of Safety winner.

5 R Constructors will take home the Sentinels award for the second consecutive year. This quarry operation has the enormous task of not only mining the raw materials, but building the newest runway at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport.

The company boasts a bi-lingual program to break down communication barriers between Spanish- and English-speaking workers. Those workers who speak both languages are distinguished with blue hard hats, and are on hand to interpret safety programs and instructions for their fellow workers.

Now, if only they can figure out a way to get flights to land on time

Davenport Sand Mine, a dredging operation, was a Sentinels runner-up in 2002. Davenport relies heavily on Job Hazard Analysis for each function performed at the mine. I understand the staff there was very hospitable toward our film crew from the Mine Academy, but they also were very eager for them to leave. . They were getting ready to receive another visitor - Hurricane Ivan.

North Antelope Rochelle Mine is the largest coal operation in the country, employing over 800 workers. In 2003, the surface operation in the Powder River Basin produced a record 80.1 million tons of coal.

No small feat to produce that much coal without an accident-causing injury and they will take home a Sentinels award this year. The Rochelle Mine was a runner-up in the 1996 Sentinels competition.

I know the folks at Unimen Corporation's Schoolhouse Mine in North Carolina must be jubilant, as this is the first-ever Sentinels trophy awarded to a Unimen company. In June 2003, Schoolhouse achieved one-million mine hours without a lost-time accident. They had no reportable injuries the entire year.

Earlier this year, they were recognized by the North Carolina Department of Labor for their safety achievements, and have entered into an agreement with the state to promote health and safety in the mining industry.

These are the role models for the entire mining industry. We are very proud of each one of you!

Thanks to some changes in the criteria for determining a Sentinels of Safety winner, many more operations will be eligible for future accolades.

Beginning with the 2004 awards, which will be presented in 2005, the Sentinels program will undergo some major changes - changes which will enhance the program, and help drive us toward our shared vision, a vision where no lives are lost or injuries sustained. MSHA and NMA have worked hand-in-hand over the past two years to develop these new criteria.

Highlighting the changes, two new categories are being added - metal and nonmetal mills and coal processing facilities.

Each category will be divided into large and small mines, based on the average number of hours worked in each group. This levels the field of play for all mining operations, no matter what their size.

The 30,000-hour minimum requirement will be reduced to a minimum of 2,000 hours. This will open up eligibility to substantially more mining operations.

So, in other words, the criteria for a mining operation to be considered for a Sentinels of Safety award are no lost-time injuries for at least 2,000 hours in a work year. And both small and large mines will receive equal consideration.

Currently, only about 5 percent of all mines in this country are eligible for Sentinels awards. Since most mining operations in this country are small, the new criteria will mean that the majority of mines can compete for a Sentinels of Safety honor.

Based on 2003 injury data, 60 percent of mines, mills and preparation plants in the United States would have qualified for the Sentinels awards presented this year by working the year without a single lost-time injury, with many not even experiencing a single reportable injury!

Just think about the significance of that accomplishment! More than 9,000 mining operations around the country with thousands of men and women employees doing their jobs the right way - the safe and healthy way - every hour of every day.

Getting to ZERO means going the extra mile, but the industry as a whole is more than half-way there, and the goal is in sight!

That's great news for the entire mining industry!

I've been with MSHA now for nearly 3 and a half years. In that time, I've made it a practice - and a priority - to get out and meet with our stakeholders in the mining industry. I've had the pleasure of visiting a number of former Sentinels of Safety winners.

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

And on each occasion, I'm always impressed 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 business plans.

What I've also noticed from Sentinels of Safety winners is a lack of complacency, and a willingness to improve -- by constantly focusing on the task at hand.

Along a willingness to entertain new ideas, and work with other groups to continue to progress.

I'd like to assure you that we in the Mine Safety and Health Administration are committed to providing you with all the assistance you may need to maintain the high safety and health standards you have set for yourselves.

As is demonstrated in the alliance agreement we signed earlier this morning, partnerships with like-minded groups will serve as catalysts toward reaching our ultimate goal: a goal where every miner in this country returns home to their families at the end of every work day in a healthy and safe condition.

Once again, congratulations to each one of you here this morning representing the collective performance of your fellow employees.

Thank you for coming today, and please extend my warm wishes to all when you return home.