December 14, 2010
In a letter to Representative George Miller, Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) commented on the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 (HR 6495), which was introduced on December 3rd and defeated in a suspension vote in the House on December 8th. ASSE supported many of Mine Act reform provisions of the bill, opposed others but also raised concerns that Congress was also not addressing occupational safety and health reform for all workers.
“We are deeply concerned that Congress has not also addressed reforms of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act),” ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP, wrote. “We understand the difficulty mine operators have had in making mines as safe as we all want them to be. However, the highly visible loss of miners’ lives in mine accidents should not be allowed to cloud the daily death toll of workers in every other kind of workplace across this nation.”
Dr. Hill noted that too little is being done about the loss of about 14 workers every day who die from on-the-job injuries in all industries and that more than eight million Americans — public sector workers employed by many states, counties and municipalities — do not have the same workplace safety and health protections other workers have come to assume. He also notes that more must be done to make people aware of these fatalities and injuries and to prevent them.
“You and your staff put a great deal of positive work into OSHA reform efforts, including reaching out and listening to numerous stakeholders, and that effort should not go to waste,” Dr. Hill said. “ASSE urges you to revisit those provisions in the next Congress and seek to build on the historical precedent of compromise on occupational safety and health issues that exist in Congress. If Congress can address the safety and health of 350,000 miners, it can also address the safety and health of the nearly 125 million other Americans who go to work each day.”
In the bill, ASSE supports provisions to provide for NIOSH’s independent investigations of mine accidents increased Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) subpoena power with protection for self audits, providing for a close relative to represent an entrapped miner, requiring inspections during all shifts, requiring review of a mine’s pattern status, increased injury/illness reporting, strengthening MSHA’s ability to place a mine in pattern status, giving MSHA authority to revoke a mine plan based on inaccurate information, a GAO study of MSHA mine plan approvals, increased protections from retaliation, requiring MSHA to address coal dust and atmospheric monitoring systems, additional post-accident training, ensuring quality state mine personnel certification, assistance to states, and the surface mine exemption.
ASSE said it cannot support, without changes, allowing absent MSHA personnel to make post-accident decisions, making all violations presumptively significant and substantial, requiring verbal communication of mine risks between shifts, increases in civil and criminal penalties without holding upper management responsible for the mine’s safety culture accountable, requiring refresher training on retaliation by MSHA or independent trainers, and a more stringent definition of “significant and substantial” violation.
Dr. Hill noted, “We appreciate both your continued commitment to worker safety and health and the opportunity to work with you and your dedicated staff in helping see the best possible occupational safety and health reforms are put into effect by Congress. Even when our views may differ on particular provisions, you should know that ASSE values your ability to listen and the opportunity for our members to be heard.”