Joseph A. Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, addressed the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association during its recent convention. Here is the first part of his remarks. – Ed.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss mine safety and health, and the actions MSHA, as well as the mining industry, has taken and is taking to improve it. During my administration, we have made several mine safety and health enforcement, regulatory, training and other changes, including improved stakeholder outreach and education. I believe these actions and initiatives are making a positive difference overall and moving mine safety and health in the right direction.
The mining industry has been making several changes as well, and I want to thank those of you who have made the safety and health of your employees a priority.
This year is also the 35th anniversary of the 1977 Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. That legislation simply put – improved mine safety and health, reduced injuries and illnesses and saved lives. That legislation transferred mine safety and health enforcement authority from the U.S. Department of Interior to the U.S. Department of Labor, which is also celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year.
Metal and nonmetal miners gained the most under the 1977 Mine Act –
including mandated inspections, twice a year at surface mines and four times a year at underground mines; stringent enforcement provisions and mandatory standards, protections already in the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act covering coal mining.
The new law added the authority to promulgate emergency temporary standards; enhanced civil penalties; increased emphasis on the health of miners; increased compensation during periods when a mine is idled due to a withdrawal order; strengthened anti-discrimination provisions that give miners the right to request temporary reinstatements back to their jobs when their cases are pending; protection against loss of pay for the time a miner’s representative spends accompanying MSHA during a mine inspection; and training for miners.
In addition, the Act provided new enforcement tools for MSHA, including the authority to issue citations and orders for “unwarrantable failure” violations and the Pattern of Violations (POV) enhanced enforcement tool to address chronic violators.
This POV tool, which we revised in 2010, was effectively used by MSHA for the first time in history in 2011 when mines were issued 104 closure orders for violations.
These provisions have made a significant difference in the lives of miners and their families – and still do.
The fatality and injury data best illustrate the positive impact of the 1977 Act. Prior to the 1977 Act, on average, one miner was killed and 66 were injured each day in mining accidents. In 1977, there were 273 mining fatalities in the U.S., 134 of which occurred in metal and nonmetal mines. In 2012, there were 35 fatalities, 16 were in metal and nonmetal.
In 1977, the total all-injury rate at all mines in the U.S. was 9.55 injuries per 200,000 work hours. For metal and nonmetal it was 6.63. By 2011, this number had fallen by 71 percent to 2.73 injuries, and in metal and nonmetal, by 66 percent to 2.28 injuries. In 1977, the fatality rate was .0645, and .0600 in metal and nonmetal. By 2011, it decreased nationally 82 percent and 86 percent in metal and nonmetal.
When I arrived at MSHA in late 2009, my goal was to implement and enforce the nation’s mine safety laws and to improve health and safety conditions in the nation’s mines so miners can go to work, do their jobs, and return home to their families safe and healthy at the end of every shift.
To read the rest of Main’s remarks in their entirety, go to www.rockproducts.com.