ASSE: Some Provisions in House Mining Bills "Not Realistic"

In a letter to Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor George Miller, American Society of Safety Engineers President Michael W. Thompson, CSP, offers comments on mining safety reform legislation, HR 2768 and HR 2769, now under consideration by the committee. Among other measures, Thompson's letter urges Congress to consider including supplemental emergency response plans to the legislation.

"Most of what is proposed in the bills will help prevent loss of life and injuries," Thompson writes. "However, some provisions are not realistic given the current capabilities of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and may take away from the ability of these agencies to advance safety in realistic ways. A few provisions, though not directly safety issues, challenge the due process rights of mine owners and may be unnecessarily overbearing for the great majority of mines that work safely."

Thompson notes in the letter that members of ASSE's Mine Practice Specialty strongly believe that the current legislation--and the overall mine safety debate--misses a necessary approach to achieving safer mines. As ASSE members see it, Thompson says, each time a mine disaster occurs, another serious mine safety problem comes to light that turns out to have been a known significant risk within the mining community.

"We urge the Committee to also look beyond specific fixes to establishing an overall approach to assessing safety and health risks across the mining industry that would be similar to the way a safety professional approaches a troubled worksite," Thompson writes. "When a safety professional enters a worksite, professional training dictates that the first task is to make an assessment of the overall safety and health risks. By developing risk-based priorities, they are able to make the most effective use of resources to address the issues that most directly put workers in peril. An industry-wide safety analysis could very well result in an understanding for the need for Congress to re-open the Mine Act to readjust the direction and scope of mine regulation so that the resources of MSHA could focus more directly on the elements of the industry and the risks that truly represent a clear and present danger to miners."

In his letter Thompson discusses several issues including authority of inspectors; transition to a new generation of inspectors; a miner ombudsman; the pattern of violations; notification of abatement; failure to timely pay penalty assessments; penalties; a federal licensing advisory committee; rescue, recovery, and incident investigation authority; respirable dust standards; air contaminants; asbestos; and hazard communication. In urging Congress to consider including supplemental emergency response plans, Thompson notes, "ASSE understands the urgency with which the provisions aimed at improving the chance that miners will survive a mine accident have been included in this bill. Each provision is worthy of further action, as each has the potential to save lives. However, we urge you to amend the bill to make their implementation dependent on an industry-wide risk analysis to be conducted under the direction of NIOSH before placing these provisions into law. Our fear is that all these activities, if required in the time frames indicated, will overwhelm even the best efforts of NIOSH and MSHA to bring them about." For a full copy of the letter, visit www.asse.org.

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