New Mine Health, Safety Legislation Package Introduced

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) today announced a new package of legislation to help improve health and safety in U.S. mines.

A news release from Kennedy's Web site states that the legislation would improve mine emergency response plans, strengthen the ability of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to enforce health and safety regulations, strengthen rescue, recovery, and accident investigation practices, and update the 35-year old standard that is not effectively preventing today's miners from developing black lung disease.

"The MINER Act was an important first step towards fixing years of backsliding and complacency when it comes to the health and safety of miners," said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "While important progress has been made, we now have clear evidence that more can and must be done. Enactment of this legislation is essential if we are to ensure that our miners and their families no longer have to fear for their lives or those of their loved ones in producing the coal this nation needs."

The legislation introduced in the House and Senate would establish an independent ombudsman to ensure proper attention to miner complaints of unsafe conditions and to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Coal miners and family members who lost loved ones in mining accidents testified before the committee in March that they faced blacklisting or retaliation if they spoke up about unsafe working conditions.

Some of the key provisions in the new Mine Heath and Safety Initiative include:

  • Banning the practice of ventilating mines with belt air and require the half-century old standard on conveyor belt flammability to be updated
  • Requiring the installation of underground gas and smoke monitoring systems, and require miners working alone to carry multi-gas detectors to protect them from otherwise undetectable toxic atmospheres they may encounter
  • Requiring a study by the National Academy of Sciences of the technology needed to help protect underground miners from the harmful potential consequences of lightning above the mine
  • Speeding up the dates by which mine operators must install improved underground communication systems and refuge chambers
  • Clarifying the authority of mine inspectors to be free of interference and to issue withdrawal orders in emergencies
  • Enhancing penalties for a "pattern of violations" and for retaliation against miners who report safety or health violations
  • Allowing supplemental investigations by the independent Chemical Safety Board, if requested by miners, or their representatives or families
  • Reducing the amount of coal dust to which miners can be exposed in accordance with NIOSH recommendations
  • Requiring miners be equipped with the new personal dust monitors developed and certified by NIOSH, and authorize miners to adjust their activities to avoid overexposure
  • Setting an independent standard for silica exposure in accordance with NIOSH recommendations

A complete summary is available at http://kennedy.senate.gov/newsroom/press_release.

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