Administration safety leaders testified at a recent House Education and Labor Committee hearing on H.R. 5663, the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010
Administration safety leaders testified at a recent House Education and Labor Committee hearing on H.R. 5663, the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010. Among those who addressed the committee was Joseph Main, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The Industrial Minerals Association - North America reports that the hearing was lightly attended by both Democrats and Republicans, since most members were still returning from the July 4th recess. The legislation is on a fast track in the committee and may come up for a vote by the full House the last week of July.
Following are excerpts from Main's testimony. The full text is available at dol.gov/_sec/media/congress.
Today's hearing is a critical step forward in making good on the President's promise that this Administration would take action to prevent future mine accidents. The Secretary and I applaud the work of Congressman Miller, Chairwoman Woolsey, Congressman Rahall and their Senate colleagues in drafting this bill, as well as the hard work of their staffs. I personally appreciate the opportunity that all of you gave me to have worked so closely with you on this legislation. It closes some critical gaps in the Mine Act and establishes strong new protections for miners. I am proud to tell you that this Administration fully endorses the Committee's efforts to move this legislation this year and we look forward to working with you on this legislation as it moves through the legislative processÖ
I believe this bill really will change the culture of safety in the mining industry. It does not simply fix a particular hazard or practice that caused the last disaster, as has often been the pattern in mine safety reform. Instead, it gives MSHA the tools it needs either to make mine operators live up to their legal and moral responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all miners, or to step in with effective enforcement when operators refuse to live up to this responsibility and endanger minersÖ
No one knows the conditions in the mines better than the miners themselves. Just as a traffic cop cannot be on every street corner catching every speeding car, MSHA inspectors cannot be in every mine, finding every hazard every day of the week. It is absolutely crucial that miners bring dangerous conditions to mine operators' and MSHA's attention before those conditions cause injuries, illnesses, or even fatalitiesÖ
This bill establishes important protections for miners when they exercise their rights under the Mine Act. The Mine Act has long protected from retaliation miners who come forward to report safety hazards. We have heard loud and clear, however, that those protections are simply inadequate and that miners lack faith and belief in the current system. The Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 makes dramatic changes in this area and gives MSHA the tools it needs to protect miners who come forward. The bill:
- Makes explicit the right of all miners to refuse to perform work they reasonably believe to be unsafe;
- Creates a fairer and faster process to get miners their jobs back if they are discriminated against for coming forward to complain about safety or health issues;
- Eliminates the financial disincentive for miners to report safety hazards that might result in the mine being shut down so the hazards can be fixed by guaranteeing miners pay during all safety-related shut downs. No one should have to choose between a paycheck and protecting him or herself; and,
- Substantially increases penalties for mine operators who retaliate against miners who report safety hazards.