Skip to page content
Office of the Secretary
Bookmark and Share

Statement of J. Davitt McAteer Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health


Fiscal Year 2001 Request
for Mine Safety and Health


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to present the fiscal year (FY) 2001 appropriations request for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). In FY 2001, MSHA is proposing a budget of $242.2 million and 2,357 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, a net increase of $14.2 million and 40 FTE. MSHA's request supports the Department of Labor's strategic goal of fostering quality workplaces that are safe, healthy, and fair. The request is critical to our mission of protecting miners' safety and health and will enable the Agency to focus on initiatives designed to achieve our performance goals regarding work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses in the mining industry.

MSHA's program to improve miners' safety and health proactively integrates all of the tools found in the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Under this Administration, we revitalized our programs to enable the Agency to react and respond more quickly and effectively to existing and emerging issues. Our winter alert program, for example, no longer only reminds miners and mine operators of the increased explosion potential during the winter months. Now, it also focuses our inspection activities on those conditions that can lead to an underground mine explosion. We also have taken steps to involve mine operators, miners, manufacturers, academia, and other interested parties in resolving safety and health issues at their outset. For example, we convened a small mine summit to address the disproportionate number of accidents and injuries at small mines, and we set up meetings of mining engineering schools, State mine safety agencies, and mine rescue personnel to help us address safety and health issues. At these meetings and many others, our message was plain and simple-- protecting miners' safety and health involves all of us, working together.

As I stated on prior occasions, the Mine Act is a law that works. It was thirty years ago this very month that the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 became effective, and 22 years ago when Congress amended and improved the Coal Act, and extended its important protections to the metal and nonmetal mining industry.

Much progress has been made. However, it was a great disappointment to us, and I am sure to you as well, that in 1999 the number of deaths in the coal mining industry rose from 29 to 34, and in the metal and nonmetal mining industry from 51 to 54. These statistics are a sobering reminder that mines are dynamic workplaces and that we can never relax our vigilance. We are renewing and increasing our efforts to reverse this trend.

Working conditions in a mining environment can change daily, even hourly. As long as men and women work in this extractive industry, there is the ever-present potential of unstable roof conditions and highwalls. Miners face the dangers of working with explosives and maneuvering giant trucks around narrow and steep roadways. As the past has grimly shown, every mine fire, every accumulation of methane gas is a potential catastrophe.

This year, in addition to our systematic enforcement and regulatory programs, we identified safety hazards that routinely kill miners every year. Sadly like clockwork, we can predict that several miners will die getting caught up in machinery or losing brakes and tumbling down a highwall. We have tried this year to tackle these problems head on.

In a handful of States, for example, collapses on coal stockpiles have claimed the lives of 18 miners since 1980. A miner working on a large stockpile with a bulldozer can encounter voids which can collapse and bury the dozer under tons of coal, suffocating the operator before help can arrive because the glass in the cab cannot withstand the weight of the coal. To tackle this unique safety problem, MSHA's joined with the State of West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety & Training, and a glass manufacturer for our "Bury the Dozer" initiative. We experimented by installing high-strength glass in the bulldozer's cab and then buried the dozer under tons and tons of coal. The windshield held. The State of West Virginia proposed a regulation requiring that bulldozers have high-strength glass or that mine operators use remote controlled bulldozers. We are working with other States to tackle this same safety problem.

We have also begun conducting post-accident analysis sessions with miners and management at the site of recent fatalities. Losing a co-worker is an awful experience, but we have been able to identify remedies for the safety problems during these post-accident sessions. For example, after a fatal accident in which a miner performing maintenance on a truck was run over because the driver didn't see him, the workers at the quarry adopted a new safety rule to "take the keys." Now maintenance workers will put the keys in their pocket and only return the keys to the operator when their work is done. We are sharing these "low-tech" remedies with miners and managers during our inspections and on our website.

When I first testified before this committee in 1994, I promised that the Agency would reinvigorate its activities and programs to protect miners' health. Under this Administration, we adopted a new standard to protect surface highwall drill operators from silica dust, convened an Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers (Advisory Committee), adopted a new rule requiring an on-shift examination of dust controls, began efforts to address the health hazard created by diesel exhaust, initiated a pilot program to determine the extent and magnitude of black lung disease among the current population of miners, and, for the first time in almost 30 years, issued new health standards to protect miners from hearing loss associated with prolonged occupational exposure to damaging noise levels.

I appreciate your continued support of our program to eliminate black lung disease and silicosis. Over the last 3 years, you have granted our request for an additional 94 FTE and $6.4 million for the coal mine dust program. These resources allowed us to increase our sampling at underground coal mines from once a year to the bimonthly sampling that MSHA will begin next month. This additional sampling, in conjunction with upcoming rules that would allow us to assume full responsibility for compliance sampling, is essential to our program to eliminate black lung disease. These new rules, which MSHA will propose soon, would require mine operators to demonstrate that their dust controls work at the upper limits of normal production; allow compliance determinations to be made on the basis of a single, full shift measurement; and eliminate the current requirements for operator bimonthly sampling. These steps are consistent with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee and form the cornerstone of our program to eliminate black lung disease and silicosis for our nation's miners.

I also thank you, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Obey, and the other members of this Committee for the opportunity to work with industry and labor to develop training rules (Part 46) for the 125,000 men and women who work at shell dredging, surface clay, surface stone, sand, gravel and surface limestone mines. As you know, this Administration was committed to eliminating the impediment to ensuring that the miners at the so-called "exempt" mines receive appropriate safety and health training. Your leadership enabled us to promulgate Part 46 by your deadline of September 30, 1999. Those of us involved in this endeavor--members of the Coalition for Effective Miner Training, which included among others the National Stone Association and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers, other union representatives such as the United Steelworkers of America, individual mine operators, representatives of several States, and others--not only acknowledged that the process worked, but most important, that we now have a good set of rules that will help protect miners from injury, illness, and death.

Shortly after MSHA published the Part 46 training rules, we began traveling across the country to meet with affected operators, miners, and companies to ensure to the extent possible, that everyone is aware of--and in compliance with--the rules before the effective date of October 2, 2000. To date, we have conducted more than 140 informational seminars and training sessions. We also made special efforts to ensure that our own staff is trained in the provisions of Part 46. Our goal is to ensure that this rule works as intended--to prevent miners from becoming victims of occupational accidents or exposed to harmful health hazards.

MSHA is also in the process of implementing a noise rule published in September 1999. Occupational noise exposure is a serious problem in the mining industry. MSHA estimates that about 46,000 miners will incur a serious occupationally related hearing loss over their working lifetime. Hearing loss is a preventable condition, and MSHA expects its rule will prevent two-thirds of the hearing loss cases.

As with the Part 46 training rules, MSHA is allowing a full year before this important new health protection become effective. We have already held seven regional seminars to inform miners and mine operators of the new requirements. We have also offered noise surveys to every mine operator, and assistance in helping them identify and address problem noise areas. Several compliance assistance guides are posted on our website and others will be available soon. These efforts are intended to provide the mining industry with every opportunity to be in compliance with the rule's requirements when it becomes effective in September 2000.

New Program Initiatives

In FY 2001, MSHA will supplement its annual inspection activities with increased monitoring of mines that have a high incidence of serious accidents, injuries and illnesses. In addition, we will continue to investigate fatal accidents and serious non-fatal accidents. These investigations provide valuable information about the causes of accidents, which is critical to our efforts to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

The number of nonmetal mines has been steadily increasing over the past two and one-half years, a reflection of both a strong economy and the effect of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) which is in its second year. Production demands have been rising, particularly for aggregates, the basic building materials of stone, sand, and gravel. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the 1999 total production of construction sand and gravel was the highest level ever recorded in the United States. Clearly, the demand for aggregates places an increased emphasis on production, which will challenge all of us in the mining community to increase our efforts in the health and safety efforts.

For the metal and nonmetal sector, MSHA is proposing an additional $3.2 million and

40 FTE to address basic compliance, focus on accident prevention, and enhance compliance assistance. Specifically, we plan to implement a program to assist new mine operators, particularly small mine operators, with training, education, and accident prevention. We are developing safety and health training materials specifically tailored to these operations.

MSHA will also address the growth in the metal and nonmetal sector through its education and training activities. Rising production demands for aggregates continue to increase the need for new miners, many of whom are inexperienced and consequently more vulnerable to work-related accidents. Effective training allows miners and mine operators to become actively engaged in accident prevention. The request for an additional $1.5 million will allow us to continue to enhance our State grants for education and training. This program provides funds to 43 States and the Navajo Nation for the delivery of training and training materials to miners and front line instructors.

MSHA launched a national pilot program last fall, offering free x-rays to 20,000 coal miners throughout the country. We designed this program to address the recommendations of the Advisory Committee to provide a health surveillance program for surface coal miners and to increase participation among underground miners. The miners who are eligible for the free chest x-rays are selected randomly, and we expect that the results of this program will give the mining community a clear picture of the extent of black lung disease among U.S. coal miners. I am very pleased to note that through the end of February, more than 6,500 miners participated. Our 2001 request provides for an increase of $500,000 to continue this very successful and valuable effort.

Today, and for the past seven weeks, MSHA specialists have been on-site at a mine in Colorado, monitoring high carbon monoxide levels inside the mine. This potentially serious condition has put 300 miners out of work. We are requesting to establish a contingency fund to lessen the fiscal impact of multiple extended emergencies for which MSHA has a statutory requirement to investigate and provide support services. MSHA provides extensive technical assistance at mines--large and small-- where fires, explosion or other serious accidents have occurred. The rehabilitation of an underground mine after a fire or explosion poses serious hazards to all personnel involved. Because of these hazards, MSHA closely monitors this process to protect the health and safety of the recovery personnel.

During such operations, MSHA incurs significant costs such as overtime, travel, equipment and supplies for mine rescue teams, specialized equipment operators, and technical specialists. Since 1996, ventilation engineers and other highly-skilled MSHA staff have spent the equivalent of about two years at mines in Alabama, Illinois, Utah, and Colorado, working cooperatively with mine management and labor representatives to protect those miners engaged in the recovery of the mine. In 1999, for example, MSHA responded to three separate coal mine fires. MSHA typically supports these functions with its base budget, but the unusual number of mine accidents in 1999 forced the agency to curtail other activities, such as technical assistance and equipment purchases. MSHA's request proposes to establish a contingency fund to be available when accident recovery obligations exceed $1 million.

MSHA requests to retain up to $1 million in fees collected by its Approval and Certification Center currently being forwarded to the Department of the Treasury. We base this figure on the amount collected by MSHA for services performed in testing and approving products used by the mining industry. MSHA currently covers the costs of conducting these tests from its base budget. Our ability to retain fees will allow us to cover testing costs. MSHA will use its base resources to train its employees in state-of-the-art equipment used by the mining industry, and to upgrade and maintain laboratory facilities and equipment to better serve our customers.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared statement. I appreciate this opportunity to present MSHA's budget request for meeting our safety and health performance goals for the year 2001. I welcome any questions you may have.


History Home Page

In-Depth Research

Annals of the Department

History eSources

Departmental Timeline

Historical Office

 Century of Service  

Wirtz Labor Library