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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Dave D. Lauriski before the
2004 TRAM-National Mine Instructor's Seminar
At the National Mine Health and Safety Academy
Beckley, WV
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Good afternoon. It's good to have all of you here. It's always good to be in the company of people who provide such a great service to our nation's miners. And that's effective training.

Attendees at this conference are the backbone of our effort to improve miner safety and health in this country. Training and education are valuable commodities which will push this industry to higher levels of safety and health achievement.

A well-trained miner who is educated about hazards in the workplace is the true antidote to mining injuries and fatalities in our nation's mines. Training has played a major role in the significant advances this industry has made in safety and health, and training will continue to play an important role in the future in our efforts to eliminate accidental injuries and fatalities in the mining workplace.

And we have made good progress in our efforts. Today there are fewer incidents of injuries, fatalities and occupational illness in mining than ever before. Mining fatalities dropped 34 percent between 2000 and 2003-to the lowest level since statistics were first compiled in the early 1900's.

And over the same period, the injury incident rate has dropped 18 percent for the mining industry as a whole.

We have also had remarkable success in exceeding the health goals we set out under the Government Performance and Results Act. Our goals were to reduce the percentage of coal dust, silica dust, and noise samples that exceed regulatory standards by 5 percent per year. Our most recent sampling results, through July of this year, show that we have met and exceeded those goals by significant amounts.

In short, the mining industry is experiencing its best health and safety record in history and you are a big part in this accomplishment. And I thank you for that.

But we cannot rest on any of these laurels, be they safety performance or health performance. We are going to strive to make our goals even more challenging-and we are going to challenge our stakeholders to work with us to meet those new goals.

One of the ways is to challenge our stakeholders (you) to take a hard look at alcohol and drug use and abuse in the mining industry.

Just yesterday, I was part of a ceremony to sign an alliance agreement between the Department of Labor, OSHA, MSHA, the working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace, and four unions - the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

The agreement stipulates that these groups will form an alliance to provide employees with information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help them understand the benefits of drug-free workplace programs and protect employees' health and safety.

The organizations will particularly focus on educating workers on safety and productivity hazards created by the abuse of alcohol and other drugs in the workplace. A key component of that agreement will be the information-sharing in order to communicate best practices among these organizations. Indications are that drug abuse by miners is increasing and it is imperative that this issue be addressed if we are to continue our progress in safety and health.

This alliance will give us an excellent start toward a comprehensive effort to eliminate the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol in mining workplaces.

Similar actions were taken with an alliance agreement MSHA signed just last month with the Bituminous coal Operators Association and the National Mining Association. Addressing the use of alcohol and drug abuse was a key component of that agreement and gives us a commitment from management to assist the industry in reducing this problem.

There are many other important initiatives being undertaken at MSHA these days, as well.

Several weeks ago, right here at the Academy, we, along with the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association, kicked off the new Professional Miner Recognition. This program recognizes and honors those miners who have consistently practiced safe mining procedures and have remained injury-free for an extended period of time. Miners who enter the program pledge to serve as positive role models in the work environment for other miners, and as mentors for new miners, passing on and expanding the culture of prevention and the values of safety and health in the mining profession. Professional miners also pledge to work toward a drug and alcohol-free work environment.

Under the Professional Miner initiative, miners who have worked consecutive years in the industry without experiencing an occupational injury can apply for the Professional Miner Recognition. Those miners who have achieved these benchmarks have demonstrated their dedication to the values of safety and health and that is an outstanding achievement worthy of recognition!

To date, more than 2,000 miners have applied for recognition under the program-more than a thousand of them for the highest level of recognition offered: platinum. This high level of participation and high level of achievement tells us that the value of safety and health has taken hold at the very grassroots of the mining industry, and that miners are taking responsibility for safety and health at their workplaces.

They have adopted a work behavior that ensures that they work accident-free and that their fellow miners remain accident-free.

I call on each of you to promote active participation of your fellow miners and trainees in the Professional Miner Recognition.

Recognizing the stellar performance of Professional Miners will encourage more miners to strive for improved safety and health practices and habits, making the U.S. mining industry even safer in years to come.

Speaking of recognition, in late September, we recognized 8 mining operations for their safe work record last year when we presented our annual Sentinels of Safety Awards. As most of you know, to qualify for these awards, mining operations had to work a full calendar year without a lost-time injury.

If anyone doubts that zero injuries or zero fatalities can be achieved by the mining industry for a full year, consider this fact: Based on 2003 injury data, and using criteria that will be set for next year, 60 percent of mines, mills, and preparation plants in the U.S. would have qualified for the Sentinels of Safety Award presented this year (for 2003's safety performance) by working the year without a single lost-time injury, with many not even experiencing one reportable injury.

Just think about the importance of that accomplishment!

It means that there are more than nine thousand mining operations around the country with thousands of men of women miners doing their jobs the right way-the safe way-every hour of every day. Getting to ZERO means going the extra mile, but this industry as a whole is more than half-way there. The goal line is in sight!

And we at MSHA are continuing with a multitude of initiatives to help the industry drive toward that goal line.

In fact, just last week we announced our annual Winter Alert campaign to call attention to the hazards that colder weather brings to underground coal mines.

MSHA inspectors will deliver educational materials to mine sites across the country in an effort to remind miners and operators about these specific hazards.

And just yesterday as you know, we kicked off a new risk assessment initiative called SLAM-that is the acronym for STOP, LOOK, ANALYZE and MANAGE risks by a use of a Webcast - technical glitch thrown in for good measure.

With the SLAM initiative we will reach out to operators, miners, and contractors at mining operations to remind them that risk assessment is a critical part of each job and each task. Many accidents that happen could have been avoided had the proper risk assessment been conducted to determine hazards and how to control them.

We will provide tools such as discussion packages, training programs, posters and other materials that will reach out to the industry. The materials will also be available on our web site to reach an even wider audience.

The SLAM initiative is the first MSHA program that focuses attention on not only environmental hazards but also on behavioral factors in maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. SLAM will promote improved safety and health and accelerate a culture of prevention in the workplace, looking at potential accidents before they happen and actively moving to correct or control the situation.

This initiative is important because the vast majority of accidents and injuries occurring in the mining industry involve behavioral issues as the root cause. It's time to look beyond the "easy" work of controlling hazards and start looking at the hard work of changing attitudes and behaviors about safety and health.

And let's be clear. This look at behaviors isn't about placing blame. It's about learning why people make the decisions they make in order to use that information to help others make the right decision.

I encourage all of you to consider looking at how behaviors can be influenced with innovative training techniques. This is an area of safety and health management that offers great promise in the art and science of incident prevention.

I believe another area that offers great promise and, I hope, will be of high interest to you is the use of Job Task Analysis. Many of you may already be familiar with the concept. If not, I suspect you will be by the time this conference is over.

As you know, our regulations require that many miners assigned to a task in which they have had no previous experience must receive training in the health and safety aspects of those tasks.

JTAs benefit both miners and mine operators as they increase efficiency while putting in place sound procedures for performing a task in a safe manner.

I encourage all of you to take a close look at our Job Task Analysis to see if it can be incorporated into your training regimen. I believe the widespread use of Job Task Analysis could go a long way in helping us reach our goal of ZERO mining injuries and fatalities.

Another tactical initiative we're looking at is the Tri-State initiative. Early in 2003 we announced the Tri-State initiative to address the safety and health concerns of coal mines in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky-three states that comprise the largest number of coal mines and coal miners nationwide. This region had also accounted for 66 percent of all coal mining fatalities the previous year.

In April of this year, we also conducted a Tri-State summit where we invited members of the mining industry to give presentations on successful safety programs in use at their mine sites that could possible be used region-wide in reducing coal mining fatalities.

Yet, despite our combined efforts-while overall mining fatalities have declined-fatalities in the Tri-State area and in particular southern West Virginia still comprise the bulk of call coal mining fatalities nationwide this year.

At the current time we are re-examining the performance of the Tri-State initiative. We need to look at a new approach for obtaining real reductions in fatal and injury rates that occur in this part of the nation.

Soon we will announce the details of a bolder, newer, and what we hope will be a more tactically effective Tri-State Initiative-a revised program that will be much more viable and productive in helping us toward our goal of improving health and safety performance.

In conclusion, as you can see, all of us across the wide spectrum U.S. mining industry have much to be proud of. But we must not let our pride in our accomplishments blind us to the work that still needs to be done. You all have a wealth of knowledge and experience as trainers to help us further reach our goals.

We are all interconnected and we need you to continue to help develop a culture of prevention by instilling safety and health as values in the miners who you train.

I thank you all for being here. I know this conference will benefit your future training efforts - and you in turn will help this industry achieve our shared vision: To see every miner return home safe and healthy to his or her family at the end of every shift - every day.

Thank you.