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Remarks of Assistant Secretary of Labor Richard E. Stickler
Mine Safety and Health Administration
2007 National Safety Congress
Chicago, IL
October 15, 2007

Good afternoon. Thank you, Ron, for that kind introduction.

I am pleased to be here with so many dedicated safety and health professionals, and with those who are interested in mine safety and health.

It is also an honor to share the stage with two friends Ed Foulke of OSHA and John Howard of NIOSH. They are dedicated public servants and outstanding safety and health advocates.

I appreciate the support and assistance they have given me during my first year as Assistant Secretary for MSHA and I want to publicly thank them.

This is the second opportunity I have had to address the National Safety Congress. My first speech as Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration was at last year's National Safety Congress in San Diego, just after I joined MSHA. I can tell you that it has certainly been a busy year since then.

I am very proud to be a part of the safety and health team at MSHA, and grateful to have the opportunity to work to improve miner safety and health.

As safety and health professionals, you may know that the Sentinels of Safety awards are given jointly by MSHA and the National Mining Association each year to recognize mining operations nationwide that have worked with no lost-time or restricted injuries during the year.

I'd like to share with you an interesting fact that I learned when we compiled the statistics for this year Sentinels of Safety awards.

I was proud to learn that there were over 3,700 mining operations nationwide that worked the entire year of with zero lost time and restricted injuries.

The combined total man hours worked by these 3,700 operations exceeded 80 million man hours.

Just think of that! More than 80 million hours without any kind of lost-time or restricted injury. That is equivalent to a 40,000 employee operation working an entire year without a single lost time or restricted injury.

I want to compliment and thank those thousands of miners who have contributed to this accomplishment.

We can learn a great deal from their practices. Every chance I have I like to visit Sentinels of Safety award winners to learn about how they achieved our ultimate goal of zero injuries.

I have learned that they all work hard to implement and exceed what I refer to as the basics of mine safety and health. These basics are illustrated and communicated by MSHA's triangle of success.

You may have seen the stickers that MSHA hands out to miners that show the three sides of our triangle of success. One side is education and training, the second side is use of technology and the third side is compliance with and enforcement of safe job procedures and safety laws.

Sentinels of Safety award winners all go beyond the basic legal requirements for these areas.

I learned that Sentinels of Safety award winners conduct risk assessments to identify the hazards of every job and task and establish safe job procedures to mitigate all risk.

Then they provide extensive education and training so every employee understands the hazards and safe procedures for their job

There are also many available technologies that are not required by law that successful operations take advantage of to protect the safety and health of their workers.

Examples of these technologies include atmospheric monitoring systems to detect dangerous gases and provide early warning of a fire, backup cameras on heavy equipment, and proximity switches to shut down equipment when workers enter a danger zone.

Successful operations also exceed the basic safety and health laws by establishing compliance with additional company safety rules to protect workers.

Another common thread that I found at these operations is that they implement methods to achieve individual participation in their safety programs by all employees at every level of the organization. I found this always starts at the top and is supported by the CEO.

These companies empower all employees to correct hazards and at risk practices, and in many cases they reward their employees for doing so.

I have found that Sentinels of Safety award winners are proud to share their ideas and assist others. I encourage everyone to learn from them.

I want to take a moment to recognize that this is Drug-Free Work Week and to encourage your participation.

I recently read that 40% of all serious industrial injuries are drug or alcohol related.

This is the second year we are celebrating Drug-Free Work Week, which was established last year by the Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, a cooperative effort involving eight labor unions, five construction industry associations, and MSHA and OSHA.

The Alliance educates workers on the hazards to safety when drugs and alcohol are used in the workplace. And it provides information and tools to help organizations implement drug and alcohol prevention and intervention programs.

While Drug-Free Work Week is a great idea to draw attention to the problem of substance use in the workplace, I want to remind everyone that drugs and alcohol in the workplace is an issue that we all must address every day of the year.

As I said before, it's been a busy year for MSHA. We have accomplished a great deal, but we still have much work to do.

When I arrived at MSHA last October, the agency was already hard at work implementing the provisions of the MINER Act that President George W. Bush signed into law on June 15, 2006.

I listed implementation of the MINER Act as one of my top priorities. Much of our work has been directed toward that priority and we have met all the implementation dates set by Congress.

I want to provide a brief summary of our progress to-date. Last December, we published in the Federal Register the final rule on Emergency Mine Evacuation.

The final rule requires mine operators to provide increased capability for mine emergency response and evacuation.

It includes additional requirements for SCSRs and their storage, improved training and escape drills, lifelines, multi-gas detectors, and immediate accident notification.

MSHA has also developed and implemented an SCSR database to help us locate SCSRs affected by future recalls.

In addition, MSHA and NIOSH will use this database to randomly select and collect SCSRs deployed at mines for testing in NIOSH's Long Term Field Evaluation Program.

We have also put into place an improved penalty structure as required by the MINER Act.

Right after the President signed the MINER Act, MSHA immediately issued policies to propose increased minimum penalties for immediate accident notification and unwarrantable failure violations.

In November of last year we implemented the MINER Act provisions for flagrant violations and we have issued and assessed several flagrant violations.

On March 22 of this year, we published a final rule including those penalties and increasing civil penalty amounts for other categories of mine safety and health violations.

I believe that this increased penalty structure will provide a greater incentive for operators to follow the law which will result in safer working conditions for our miners.

Emergency response plans are another important part of the MINER Act we have implemented.

Since August of last year operators have been required to submit their ERP for MSHA approval.

In February of this year, MSHA issued a Program Information Bulletin (PIB) to provide guidance to mine operators about acceptable quantities and delivery methods for breathable air in underground coal mines.

In addition to breathable air, the ERPs must address post-accident communications and tracking, lifelines, training, and local coordination.

We are ensuring that the ERP's are implemented for all underground coal mines as specified in the Act.

While the MINER Act requirement for emergency response plans only applies to underground coal mines, I'd like to remind everyone here that having a written ERP and training all employees for emergencies can mean the difference between life and death in a workplace emergency.

The MINER Act requirement for post-accident communications and tracking in underground coal mines is also a very important area we have been working on.

Operators are required to adopt two-way wireless communications and electronic tracking systems by June 2009.

Since January of 2006, we have received 76 applications for MSHA approval of communications and tracking systems, with a substantial number of these representing new wireless technologies.

These applications are being fast-tracked to ensure that these new technologies are available as soon as possible for use in underground coal mines.

We also continue to work with the NIOSH Emergency Communication and Testing Partnership to arrange for demonstrations of additional systems.

Communication with the families at a mine emergency is another very important requirement of the MINER Act.

Last November MSHA implemented a Family Liaison Program that provides a MSHA liaison to be with families at the site of a mine accident in which miners are unaccounted for or when there are multiple fatalities.

Fourteen MSHA family liaisons have completed their initial training sessions. The National Transportation Safety Board and the American Red Cross helped train them. Our family liaisons served a vital role at recent mine accidents in Maryland and Utah.

The MINER Act also requires MSHA to issue mandatory health and safety standards relating to the sealing of abandoned areas in underground coal mines.

In May of this year, for only the fourth time in the history of the Mine Act, MSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard to strengthen the design, construction, maintenance and repair of seals, as well as requirements for sampling and controlling atmospheres behind seals.

The ETS was issued based on MSHA's accident investigation report findings of the Sago and Darby mine explosions.

It was clear that the seals requirements that existed since 1992 were not protective enough and we took immediate action to provide additional protections for our nation's underground coal miners.

The ETS was effective immediately upon issuance, and we continue to work toward a Final Rule on sealing abandoned areas.

We are also continuing to work on implementing other parts of the MINER Act.

The MINER Act requires the MSHA to issue by December 2007 regulations to address improved training, certification, availability, and composition requirements for underground coal mine rescue teams.

In September we issued a proposed rule for mine rescue teams and we are on track to meet the deadline for this rule.

Last year Congress provided for the hiring of 170 new coal enforcement personnel under an emergency supplemental appropriations act. We are pressing ahead with the recruitment, training and deployment of these additional coal mine enforcement personnel.

Since July 2006, we have hired 273 coal mine enforcement personnel. Accounting for attrition, we have had a net increase of 177 enforcement personnel, exceeding our goal.

I strongly believe the increased presence of MSHA enforcement staff at the job sites will have a positive impact on mine safety and health.

As you can see MSHA and the mining industry has made great strides in implementing the MINER Act.

We will use all of the tools available to achieve our goal of safer and healthier mines, including strong enforcement, education and training, and technology.

We will be particularly aggressive with those mine operators who habitually violate MSHA standards and seem to view penalties as just another cost of doing business.

I want to turn to an accident that has been on everyone's mind lately - the tragedy that occurred at the Crandall Canyon mine on August 6 that claimed the lives of six miners and the subsequent August 16 accident that claimed the lives of three rescue workers, including one MSHA employee.

As a third-generation miner, I have worked in the coal mining industry for more than 40 years. I know firsthand that every fatality and serious injury is devastating for miners, their families, and the communities they live in.

Like everyone throughout the mining community and MSHA, I am deeply saddened by the tragedies at Crandall Canyon mine.

These events underscore the importance of the MSHA's mission to protect the safety and health of the nation's miners.

In the wake of this accident, my resolve and MSHA's commitment to enforce the nation's mine safety and health laws have never been stronger.

We will not know the cause of these tragedies until we complete our accident investigation, which is currently underway.

As in every investigation, we are committed to providing a full report to the public when the investigation is complete.

I was in Utah last week and meet with families of the miners that lost there lives at Crandall Canyon and I committed to them that we will learn from these tragedies, and we will take that knowledge and use it to help us avoid incidents like these in the future.

Each and every individual at MSHA remains dedicated and focused on our core mission: to improve the safety and health of America's miners and to work toward the day when every miner goes home safe and healthy to family and friends, after every shift of every day.

Thank you.