Today we recognize the third annual National Miners Day, which marks the accomplishments and sacrifices of miners across the nation. Dec. 6 was chosen as National Miners Day to honor the 362 miners who perished in a coal mine explosion in Monongah, W.Va., in 1907 − the worst mining accident in American history.
Like many others, I have spent my entire career in mining, dedicated to making mining workplaces safer and more healthful for our miners. It is my firm belief − one that is shared by my colleagues at the Mine Safety and Health Administration and our labor and industry stakeholders − that miners deserve to return home after every shift free from injury and illness.
When I arrived at MSHA in October 2009, I set out to achieve specific goals to improve mine safety and health, and protect miners. While there is still much to do, we’ve made real progress. Together with efforts by the mining industry, we have improved compliance and mine safety by implementing a number of targeted initiatives. These include a revised pattern of violations process and an impact inspection program to address problem mines, as well as the “Rules to Live By” program to prevent the types of violations that have most often resulted in deaths.
While even one death is one too many, I’m proud to be able to report that the fatality and injury rates at the nation’s mines reached an all-time low in 2011. The fatal injury rate for mining as a whole was .0114 per 200,000 hours worked, and the all-injury rate was 2.73 per 200,000 hours worked. These statistics are more than numbers on a page: they represent a significant achievement in protecting workers’ lives and well-being. In the coming years, we must all work hard to improve upon them.
Another of MSHA’s goals is to give miners a greater voice in the workplace. The April 5, 2010, Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy that claimed the lives of 29 miners highlighted the need to do more in this area. To accomplish our goal, investigations of miners’ discrimination complaints are more quickly conducted. In fiscal year 2012, the Labor Department filed 39 requests with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission − more than in any other year on record − for temporary reinstatements on behalf of miners who submitted complaints of discrimination in the form of a suspension, layoff, discharge or other adverse action. Miners need to know that they have a voice when it comes to their safety and health, without fear of retaliation.
Our efforts to reduce occupational disease and end black lung also are paying off. In 2009, MSHA launched End Black Lung – Act Now!, a comprehensive plan that includes:
- outreach to miners, operators and the mining community,
- increased education and training for miners,
- enhanced enforcement of respirable dust standards, and
- regulatory activity to reduce exposures to respirable dust.
The efforts led to the lowest yearly average for respirable dust concentrations in underground coal mines in 2012. Although the fight to end black lung continues, coal mines are healthier workplaces thanks to these efforts.
We are committed to working hard and working in concert with miners, miners’ representatives and the mining industry to help miners be safer and healthier on the job. On this National Miner’s Day, I want our miners to know that we honor their hard work by looking out for their safety and health. We owe them that!
Joseph Main in the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.