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Good afternoon, and welcome to the confirmation hearing for Edwin Foulke to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, and Richard Stickler to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. As we meet today, although the events of the recent past will not be the subject of our hearing, it is impossible to separate our focus on the issue of workplace and mine safety from the tragic mining accidents in three mines in West Virginia and Kentucky. For the past few weeks the attention of the nation has been centered on these mines as we watched the heroic efforts that were underway to try to save those who were trapped far below the surface. We then shared in the sorrow that the families felt as they received the news that their loved ones had died before they were able to be rescued. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those whose lives were forever changed by that tragedy.

The loss of those men in the darkness of that mine has brought a great light to bear on the issue of mine safety and the need for us to use every resource at our disposal to make every workplace, especially our mines, safer.

A week ago last Friday I traveled to West Virginia with Senator Rockefeller to meet with the families of the Sago miners and to begin our Committee’s review of mine safety issues. I was accompanied by our Ranking Member, Senator Kennedy, our Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Isakson, and, although she was unable to come with us because of an injury, Senator Murray, the Ranking Member of the Employment Subcommittee, sent her very capable staff.

As we met with the families of those who had lost husbands, sons and fathers, we were moved by their determination and dedication to working with us to ensure that everything is done to both prevent and better respond to accidents in the future. Their firm resolve that a mining accident would never leave another family without a father strengthened our own commitment and increased our determination as a Committee to look for ways that we, as legislators, could be part of the solution to the complex problem of workplace safety.

I can only imagine the pain of losing a loved one under circumstances like these and as we saw them trying to cope with their loss, it quickly became apparent that words were inadequate without a corresponding pledge to take action. Each of us who traveled those miles to West Virginia, in our own way, promised those families that the loss of their loved ones would not be an end but the beginning of the work that must be done to address the issue of mining and workplace safety. Today this Committee begins the task of fulfilling our own responsibility for ensuring mine and workplace safety by examining the plans of our nation’s principal workplace safety officers for both short term and long term change in our mines and other dangerous work environments. Our journey begins by ensuring that the federal positions charged with overseeing worker safety are filled with strong and experienced leaders.

Fortunately, we will not be alone in that effort. The accidents of the past few weeks have brought together labor, industry, legislators, and other stakeholders on the local, state and national level, all determined to make the changes that are needed to make our mines as safe as they can possibly be.

Coming from Wyoming, mining and worker safety are very familiar to me. As a former Mayor of Gillette, Wyoming, I know well that part of Wyoming we call the energy capital of the world because of the deposits of coal and coalbed methane that are found here.

Today, Wyoming is the largest producer of coal in the nation. We mine and ship an average of one million tons of coal a day. Coal is vital to the economy of my state, and equally vital to the economy and energy security of our country.

I am also familiar with workplace safety issues and regulations from my employment before I ran for office. Back then, I was working in a management capacity in Wyoming’s oil industry, responsible for our workplace safety programs. My experience there taught me lessons I have never forgotten about what does and does not work in the effort to make the workplace safer. It also served to impress upon me the sincere and genuine interest of both employers and employees in the creation, and effort to maintain, safe and healthful workplace environments.

If history has taught us anything, it is that the advances and innovations that have been made in other fields of science and engineering are among the most effective means of addressing workplace safety. That means we must investigate the innovations that have been made by agencies like NASA, and the work being done by the Department of Homeland Security to provide first responders to the scene of an accident with the tools they need to immediately begin rescue efforts. At the very least, it means using available technologies that may be able to locate miners and send them communications.

It may be that we have the technology to do that and more, and we certainly have the technological base upon which to build even better tools for tomorrow. A hearing has already been held in the Senate, and legislation has already been introduced on the state level to promote the use of tracking devices to determine where miners are to aid rescue efforts.

In addition, there are already personal emergency devices in use in some mines that make it possible to deliver emergency text messages underground. In 1998 there was a mine fire in Utah and the use of these devices helped 45 miners to escape to safety.

These devices are available now. However, we must improve their effectiveness so they can be used in more mines. Then, in the event of an accident, we would know exactly where the miners are, and using these emergency devices, we could communicate to them and let them know if there are any routes available to them to bring them to a safe haven from which they could be rescued.

It is unfortunate that it took the accidents at those mines to focus our attention on these issues, but it is very clear that the need for better safety procedures demands our action now. It is also clear that providing and promoting better safety procedures will produce better results for every company in terms of production, morale, and its ability to more effectively compete in the marketplace.

Last year the total number of mine fatalities was the lowest ever recorded. The injury rate in the mining industry was also the lowest on record. Overall, that tells me that the industry has made strides improving and promoting workplace safety. However, we can do better. We must look for new and better ways to make mines and other hazardous workplaces safer for all workers.

Legislation will surely play a role in this effort. As the Chairman of the Committee, I intend to work with my Committee members as well as other interested Senators and stakeholders to draft legislation very soon to provide and promote mine safety based on the following principles.

First, we must implement laws and regulations that work in the real world; not merely ones that score political points inside the beltway. In doing so we must keep our approach to workplace safety simple and easily understood by everyone involved, including small businesses and their workers.

Second, we need to realize that workplace safety is a team effort and it involves everyone on every level of an organization. There are no adversaries in the effort to promote workplace safety. To achieve success we have to get everyone involved from the top down and the bottom up. Of course, employers have to take an active leadership role in the effort. That is leading the best way – by example – and it will ensure workers understand the importance of safety – by making it everyone’s first and primary responsibility.

Third, we must recognize that every worker must have every possible tool at their disposal to increase their safety – and that comes with the training and supervision necessary to ensure that they are using their equipment properly and safely. As in all things, workplace safety involves training, a constant improving of skills and a good basic education on ways to avoid accidents, and what to do if they occur.

Over the years, the Occupational Safety and Health Act has helped in the promotion of workplace safety by reducing by 60 percent the number of workplace fatalities and decreasing by more than 40 percent the rate for occupational illness and injury. One of my primary goals upon coming to Congress was to improve the effectiveness of federal worker safety oversight and not to create more bureaucracy and red tape. Just before the holidays I introduced three OSHA reform bills and each is cosponsored by five fellow members of the HELP Committee. We believe that this legislation will improve both OSHA and worker safety and we look forwarding to moving them this year.

At the Federal level, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are the two bodies that Congress has charged with the primary responsibility for ensuring and enhancing workplace safety. It is essential to this mission that both agencies have experienced and permanent leadership. At present neither of these important agencies has the benefit of such permanent leadership. While both agencies have been ably served by dedicated individuals in acting capacities, the benefits of permanent leadership cannot be understated. We now have the opportunity to realize these benefits by the expeditious confirmation of the two nominees appearing before this Committee today. It is an opportunity upon which we must act now to provide the leadership that is needed to begin the process of addressing the issues of workplace safety that have come to light in the past few weeks.

Equally essential to the permanency of the leadership at these agencies is the experience of those who will lead them. The Committee nomination process is where we have the opportunity to hear from the nominees and to review their qualifications. I would urge my colleagues to wait until we have had the chance to hear from the nominees and to review their responses to our questions and not rush to judgment.

We are fortunate to have two nominees who have spent their entire working careers deeply involved and engaged in the issues that lie at the core of their respective agency’s responsibilities.

Richard Stickler, the nominee to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration, has extensive experience in the mining industry that spans over thirty-seven years. Mr. Stickler has worked as a miner, engineer, mine construction foreman, mine shift foreman, superintendent and manager. He left private sector employment in 1997 to become the Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety where he served for six years.

Like Mr. Stickler, Mr. Foulke’s professional career has been one of extensive involvement in workplace safety issues. Mr. Foulke is an attorney who has specialized in the practice of labor and employment law. He is a partner in the firm of Jackson, Lewis, Scnitzler and Krupman, and a member of the firm’s OSHA Practice Group. In addition to his private practice, Mr. Foulke served as a member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for six years, five of which he served as its Chairman.

I look forward to hearing from both of you today.