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Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor David G. Dye
Mine Safety and Health Administration
TRAM Conference
Mine Health and Safety Academy, Beckley, WV
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Good afternoon, and thank you for that kind introduction, Jeff.

I'm happy to be here for my second TRAM Conference. Of all the conferences we sponsor here at MSHA's Academy, and all the conferences dedicated to mining in this country, I happen to think that this is one of the most useful and most important. After all, training is the foundation of a comprehensive safety and health program in any business - if workers aren't trained in proper safety and health practices and procedures, then they can't practice them.

The agenda for this year's TRAM conference looks both ambitious and comprehensive. I must say that I'm extremely impressed with both the range of topics that are being covered here and the depth and breadth of knowledge that this substantial list represents. That tells me that there is an impressive amount of knowledge and experience right here in this room that benefits miners of this nation every day. Thank you for coming to share that knowledge with each other and to take this opportunity to increase your knowledge to help miners throughout our country.

I know I don't need to tell you, of all people that the foundation of a safe and healthful mining workplace is training. Training is the single most important building block for a safe and healthful workplace and a safe and healthy mining work force. It's a simple fact. It's so simple that people often just look right past it: if miners and operators don't know what they need to do to stay safe and healthy at work and to obey the mining laws, rules and regulations - then they can't!

As trainers and educators of miners and operators, you are the ones who give miners and operators the tools they need to keep them alive and safe and healthy in the mining workplace. Through your work, you literally hold the lives of the miners you train in your hands. What they learn from you can - and in many cases will - save their lives one day. That is a great responsibility for you to carry. You have all chosen to carry that responsibility, and chosen to do it well. I salute all of your for your dedication to keeping miners safe and healthy throughout their careers.

Many of the same issues you have dealt with in past TRAM conferences are continuing and long-term issues you will have to deal with for the foreseeable future. The mining workforce, just like the workforce in other industries, is aging. The Boomers changed the world when they were born, and they will change the world of work when they retire. Even now, retiring miners are leaving the workforce faster than they can be replaced. Training needs are growing exponentially with each retirement. We in the mining industry - and I include all of us in that characterization - must prepare our new miners and supervisors. We must have a plan and we must have the expertise to carry out that plan. You - trainers and educators - will become critical to the continued growth and health of the mining industry as those retiring miners are replaced with a new generation who must be trained from the ground up. You have a big job ahead of you - I'm confident you're up to the challenge.

This year's conference comes at a particularly critical juncture in mine safety and health. As you know, this has been a particularly difficult year so far in our nation's coal mines, with 38 fatalities to date, including the tragedies in West Virginia - as well as 20 fatalities to date in metal and nonmetal mines. So many fatal accidents, coming so quickly at a time when mining fatalities have been steadily declining, are a wake-up call. We need to re-focus and re-dedicate ourselves to making safety job number one in the mines. We can do better in the mining industry - we know it, because we've done it before. You're a big part of the reason we had record low fatalities over the past few years - and you're a big part of our ability to get there again.

Last March, MSHA published in the Federal Register an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), for only the third time in the history of the Mine Act. The emergency temporary standard contains provisions -- applicable to all underground coal mines -- on self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR) storage and use, evacuation training and the installation and maintenance of lifelines. The availability of supplemental SCSRs to increase the supply of oxygen; added lifelines to guide miners along evacuation routes when visibility is poor; more frequent evacuation drills to condition miners to escape quickly, and proper training on how to transfer from one SCSR to another will help ensure that miners do not suffer injury or death in an emergency.

The ETS modifies various provisions in Part 48 and Part 75. These modifications provide a more integrated training approach so miners will have the skills to evacuate a mine during an emergency. This enhanced training approach requires more frequent "hands-on" training and actual drills coupled with scenarios of the various mine emergencies and the best options for evacuating the mine.

The ETS requires that all persons, before entering an underground mine, have the skills to don and transfer all SCSRs used in that mine. The ETS includes a new provision in Part 48, providing all newly hired miners and visitors with "hands-on" training in the transferring of self-rescue devices in addition to the required "hands-on" donning training.

Once a miner starts working in a mine, actual "hands-on" training for donning and transferring of self-rescue devices becomes part of the actual evacuation drill required in Part 75. Because miners will now receive "hands-on" SCSR training at least four times a year as part of the evacuation drill required under Part 75, they will not be required to receive "hands-on" training as part of their annual refresher training under part 48. Also, included in these evacuation drills is the training in the location and use of directional lifelines or equivalent devices, mine emergency scenarios, and stored SCSRs.

MSHA is working hard to develop good training materials for the donning and transferring of SCSRs. MSHA has been working with NIOSH's National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory and Pittsburgh Research Laboratory and SCSR manufacturer representatives to develop training for donning and transferring SCSRs. We have developed draft instructor training guides on inspection/care, donning and transferring the five SCSRs on the market today. We also have developed instructional DVDs on transferring the five SCSRS which show the process of switching between different combinations of the five SCSRs in the event some mines have commingled SCSRs. Our next step will be to test our training programs in an actual mine environment with miners. We plan begin the mine tests the 3rd week in October. This is an exciting development and we will keep you posted on our progress.

Another aspect of mine emergency escape training is the concept of "expectations training" - in other words, training to better prepare miners for conditions they may encounter during a mine escape, including traveling through smoke, and knowing what they will experience while wearing an SCSR. Dr. Kathleen Kowalski-Trakofler of NIOSH's Pittsburgh Research Laboratory has worked with us to develop a segment in the SCSR training on what miners might expect from their SCSRS - and from themselves - during an escape. Kathleen is presenting the segment during the conference, and I hope you can find time to attend.

Just how important this kind of training can be was brought home to me by an unsolicited e-mail I received last April. A coal miner in Pennsylvania with 35 years of experience in various mines around the state wrote to me to tell me of the training he received at a mine fire school. As part of the training, the miners were subjected to a smoke-filled environment. I want to relate to you the most important part of that e-mail:

During this exercise we were to don the SCSR and find our way out of a small maze that was built in a van truck. I must say that this was the single most enlightening experience of my mining career. I have been around small mine fires before but nothing where I had to simulate an evacuation such as this. Even though I knew that I was in no danger, I became somewhat apprehensive. I soon realized that even with all the training that I have had over the many years, I am not fully prepared to escape a severe mine emergency.

His concluding sentence was even more powerful: Please take this into consideration because speaking from experience we are not prepared.

That e-mail really hit home with me. I hope it does the same for you. I am a strong proponent of expectations training - the whole spectrum, including training miners on how it feels to feel the breathing resistance of an SCSR, experience the heat generated by the device, and understand and experience the fact that in an emergency their vision will be obscured. We are continuing with rulemaking with the ETS and we are taking a hard look at this aspect. I am convinced expectations training will save lives.

However, we must not allow the focus on emergency escape training to obscure other critical training needs and issues. Fatality trends last year and this year tell us that we need more training in certain key areas. While coal fatalities last year were the lowest on record at 22, fatal accidents in metal and nonmetal mines last year were way too high. Thirty-five miners lost their lives at metal and nonmetal mines last year - for a total of 57 too many miners who we lost last year.

There were some disturbing trends in those fatal accidents last year. One trend of particular concern was the fact that 16 of the 35 fatalities in metal and nonmetal mines and 9 of the 22 fatalities in coal mines were related to powered haulage. Both of those numbers represent nearly half of the fatalities in each industry sector. And there have been 7 powered haulage fatalities to date in metal-nonmetal this year, or more than one-third of the total metal-nonmetal fatalities to date. There have also been five powered haulage fatalities in coal mine operations nationwide so far this year. Those numbers are very disturbing, and tell us that we all have a lot more work to do when it comes to ensuring safe work practices around powered haulage!

Fifteen deaths in metal and nonmetal mines in 2005, or nearly half of 2005's metal/nonmetal fatalities, were also related to a lack of personal protective equipment. Failure to wear seat belts contributed to 9 of the powered haulage deaths in metal/nonmetal mines I mentioned above. Four failed to wear fall protection, and two failed to wear life vests. In coal mines, three of the fatalities in 2005 were also related to a lack of PPE - not wearing a seatbelt, not having the proper personal protective equipment, and not wearing fall protection. Personal protective equipment protects miners only if they actually use it! We at MSHA take PPE very seriously - we are just now starting our third year of our PPE outreach campaign "Let's Get It On." Through this campaign, we want to encourage miners and operators to wear PPE - and we hope you add your voices to that chorus of encouragement.

I hope you take a look at some of these injury and fatality trends and use them in your training. These trends are a good indicator of what we all need to pay attention to as we formulate our training and safety and health strategies.

I'm eager to see the training materials you have all submitted for TRAM Safety Materials Competition. I understand that there are submissions from all over the country - high-quality materials that cover the entire spectrum of the training segment of the mining industry. Jeff tells me that companies, state agencies and individual trainers have all submitted materials for review. I'm looking forward to seeing which materials have been selected as winners - and looking forward to seeing how they can be incorporated into other training programs.

I'd like to take a moment now to recognize our partners in the State Grants Training Programs who provide high-quality, effective training to more than a quarter-million miners and contractors around the country each year. Under our State Grants Program, the grantees provide training in 49 states and the Navajo nation. We wouldn't have such a well-trained mining workforce in this country without our state grants partners - thank you!

Another set of partners I would like to recognize is the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association and its Professional Miner Recognition program. I must admit to having a soft spot in my heart for this Program, as I gave my first speech as a new MSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary on the professional miner recognition program slightly over two years ago. It is such an exciting program - recognizing miners who have worked injury-free. This has been such a successful program - more than 20,000 miners have been recognized - that it is being expanded to recognize miners who have worked up to 40 years with no lost workday injuries. Wow - can you imagine that! There are miners out there - a fair number, I understand - who have worked a whole career - a whole lifetime - without a lost workday injury. The fact that there are so many miners out there who have worked 3, 5, 10, 20, 30 or 40 years without a lost workday injury is a testament to their dedication to working safely - and to your dedication and commitment as trainers. You clearly accomplished your goals of training these miners to work in a safe and healthful way!

Safety is contagious - Professional Miners can show others the safe way, the right way to do their jobs. They can show others how to make the right decisions, to make good safety choices, to do the right thing - the safe thing - every day.

As we know, safety behaviors and safety choices extend to areas other than the choices a miner makes about PPE or lock-out, tag-out. Some miners choose to use and or abuse drugs or alcohol on the job, and it is becoming an increasing concern in the industry. MSHA's level of concern about the issue remains high as well, especially with the recognition of the exponential growth of methamphetamine abuse throughout Appalachia and other mining areas around the country, as well as the serious and growing problem of diverted prescription drugs - oxycontin in particular.

This year, the Department of Labor's Working Partners program has instituted a Drug Free Work Week campaign for the week of October 16 - 22. MSHA is participating in that campaign with outreach efforts of our own, including distributing posters to operators and stickers to miners. We are working closely in the state of Kentucky with state officials to make a concentrated effort there as well. Working Partners also has a display here, and I encourage you to stop by to chat with the folks there. They're also presenting a session as well. They can help you with materials and ideas on promoting a drug-free workplace. This is an issue that is gaining in momentum and in importance for workplace safety - I urge you to incorporate it into your training materials as well.

You have a full schedule over the next couple of days - and big jobs ahead of you as you train new miners, train on new technology, and look for rising issues that you can correct with training. You have the lives of miners in your hands - thank you for what you do for miners every day.