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Remarks of Richard E. Stickler, Acting Assistant Secretary
Mine Safety and Health Administration
IMA-NA Spring Meeting
Washington, DC
May 1, 2008

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you, Mark, for that kind introduction. I am happy to be here today to be part of this safety awards ceremony.

I especially enjoy participating in award programs that recognize outstanding safety achievements and showcase examples of top safety performance. When operations and employees are recognized for their safe practices, they are encouraged to continue making safety improvements. This recognition also demonstrates to the rest of the industry that it is possible to run safe mining operations, regardless of the size or type of operation.

I want to commend the IMA members that have earned safety awards and also commend the IM industry for improving their overall safety record. Since 2000, IM-type operations have decreased their all injury rate 17%. That is an encouraging trend but until we eliminate every injury and fatality, we still have a lot of work to do. I believe MSHA has a strong and productive relationship with the IMA, and by working together we can continue this downward trend in injury rates.

In addition to our partnership on these safety awards, we have a formal alliance agreement that makes a positive contribution to the improvement of safety and health in the mining industry.

One major accomplishment of our Alliance was published this year - "A Practical Guide to an Occupational Health Program for Respirable Crystalline Silica."

This practical guide-book for the prevention of silicosis, was jointly introduced at the IMA-NA Technology Workshop in Las Vegas last month and distributed to approximately 150 attendees. It is now available from the Mine Academy or can be downloaded for free at MSHA's website. I'm proud that our Alliance has resulted in a publication that will ultimately improve the health of America's workers. I commend all of you that helped to make that possible.

Since joining MSHA, one of my highest priorities has been the implementation of the MINER Act. We have worked steadily and aggressively to make sure these new provisions and protections are put into place to protect miners in this country. I am pleased to report that with the diligent work and resources of the entire mining community we have made significant progress. With the exception of cases where technology or material supplies are not available, all provisions of the MINER Act have been implemented.

We have also implemented a comprehensive approach to enforcement that I believe has greatly improved our effectiveness as well as safety and health of our miners. We have increased MSHA's presence at mine sites, improved the quality of our inspection, increased the amount of penalties and have begun aggressively holding scofflaw operators accountable.

MSHA's Metal and Nonmetal Safety and Health (M/NM) program has begun a hiring initiative that, once complete, will place M/NM's enforcement ranks at their highest level in more than 20 years.

To make sure MSHA has an increased presence at mining operations, last October we launched a 100 Percent Inspection Plan. The plan calls for temporary reassignment of MSHA inspectors to areas where they are most needed. It also provides for increased overtime hours needed to complete inspections until all of our new enforcement personnel have completed all of their required training. Since we instituted this program, I am pleased to say that we completed 100% of the mandated regular inspections during the first quarter of FY 2008 and are firmly on target to meet our requirements for the rest of the year.

We have also strengthened and updated our citation and penalty structure. While the amount of penalties is not a measure of our success as an agency, penalties are a critical tool in ensuring compliance with the law and regulations. I believe that this increased penalty structure will provide a greater incentive for operators to ensure that safety and health laws are followed, which will result in safer working conditions for our miners, a goal shared by all of us here today.

We are continuing to use all the tools the Mine Act gives us to improve compliance the law. MSHA has instituted a pattern of violations process to address operators with an inspection history of recurrent S&S violations that show a disregard for the health and safety of miners. We developed a database and computer screening process to objectively identify operations that may have a potential pattern of violations.

To date, we have sent notices to 28 operations that exhibit a potential pattern of violations. The notices identified the potential pattern and contained a set of criteria and timeframes the operator had to meet in order to not be issued a pattern of violations notice. Of those 28 mine operators that have received Potential Pattern of Violations Notices over the last year, three were metal/non-metal operations. We have seen compliance improve dramatically at almost all of these operations.

I want to take a little time to talk about last year's fatality record in metal and nonmetal operations and ask you to think of ways we can work together to improve on that this year.

In 2007, 31 miners lost their lives in metal/nonmetal operations, up from 26 in 2006. I'm sorry to report that 2 of those fatalities in 2007 were in IMA-NA member operations. Clearly, the fatality numbers last year was in the wrong direction. Quite honestly, that is unacceptable.

That means that 31 miners did not go home to their families. The friends and families of those miners - hundreds of people - will forever be affected by their loss. I am sure that we all agree that we can - and must - do better.

We see some continuing trends in fatalities that concern us, and I want to go over some of them with you. One disturbing trend we have seen in metal/nonmetal fatalities is contractor deaths. From 2000 thru 2006, contractor employees have experienced 21% of the fatal accidents. Last year, 32% of the fatalities in MNM operations were contractors. We must take a hard look at why this happens and get it under control.

I believe MSHA web site can be a useful tool to help assess the safety performance of contractors before the come on your property. There you can see the contractor's accident frequency rate, and review details of violations and accidents charged against the contractor.

Another concern is that failure to properly block equipment is a leading cause of death in the MNM mining industry. During the last five years, failure to block equipment has been one of the two most-often cited standards following a fatality at MNM operations.

I believe that many of these accidents are due to the fact that proper blocking is not always convenient. This can be addressed by building in blocking devices and methods to make them a permanent part of machines and equipment. Simple hole and pin arrangements, half sleeves over cylinder rods, or attached arms, legs that can be sung into place are just few examples.

The other most-often cited standard following a fatality at MNM operations is a lack of task training, which ties into another area of concern that is maintenance. Almost half - 13 out of 31 - of the fatal accidents last year in metal/non-metal operations were maintenance, construction or repair related. Inadequate procedures, lack of risk assessments, and no task training prior to performing work were the leading causal factors of these accidents.

Personal protective equipment is also an area that requires improvement. Eight of the 31 accidents involved the lack of personal protective equipment that might have saved lives.

Proper blocking of equipment, use of personal protective equipment and proper task training are all areas that we have solutions for, and if followed can eliminate the majority of the fatalities that are occurring. Please, reflect on these accident trends. Think about how they can be prevented and lets work together to prevent future occurrences.

The companies that are receiving safety awards here today are prime examples of what we can accomplish. They are strong examples to the rest of the industry that safe and healthful operations can be achieved.

I want to compliment and thank the hundreds of miners, supervisors, and operators who have contributed to these accomplishments by putting safety first in their operations. We can learn a lot from these successful operations.

Every chance I have I like to visit Safety award winners to learn about how they achieved our ultimate goal of zero fatalities, and 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 is use of technology and the third side is compliance with and enforcement of safe job procedures and safety laws.

I have seen that successful operations all go beyond the basic legal requirements for all these areas. They conduct risk assessments to identify the hazards of every job and task and they establish safe job procedures to mitigate all risk. They provide extensive education and training so every employee understands the hazards and safe procedures for their job.

I have found that they exceed the basic safety and health laws by establishing compliance with additional company safety rules to protect workers. And they protect the safety and health of their workers by using available technologies that are not required by law.

Most important they empower all employees to correct hazards and at risk practices, and in many cases they reward their employees for doing so. When you see employees that feel free to point out hazards and at risk practices to supervisors and managers you know that top management values safety.

I have also seen that operations that have established outstanding safety performance are proud to share their methods with others. I encourage everyone to learn from them.

I appreciate your presence here today, and your commitment to safety. We all know that collaborative relationships, such as the one MSHA and the IMA-NA have, are a significant factor in making mining workplaces safer and more healthful.

Thank you for your attention. I'd be happy to take any questions you have.