Labor Day is an opportunity to honor our nation’s workers. Since I have lived and worked around miners all of my adult life, I take great pride in acknowledging the hard work and dedication they bring to the job. It’s no secret that mining is a hazardous occupation, and those who choose this path are well aware of the risks they face every day.
During my 30 years with the United Mine Workers, I was a vocal advocate for the rights of miners. When I came to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), I vowed not to alter that focus. The explosion at Upper Big Branch was a devastating tragedy, and my heart breaks for the families and friends of the men who died in that mine. But we are already acting on the lessons we are learning from this tragedy.
We’ve intensified our enforcement efforts since the mine disaster – aggressively pursuing mine operators with troubling violation histories. Over the past five months, MSHA has conducted a series of surprise inspections that have resulted in dozens of closure orders at problem mines.
Inspectors have commandeered company phones to ensure that mining personnel don’t tip their colleagues off about a federal inspector’s arrival. This is an illegal act, but we are hearing more and more about how often it happens.
Earlier this year, Congress introduced the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010, legislation that will give us stronger tools to go after mine operators that continue to ignore basic safety and health regulations. Senator Byrd was indisputably the coal miner’s most ardent supporter and, had he lived, he would have worked tirelessly to pass this bill.
Through tragedy, comes change. The kind of change we hope will improve safety and health for our nation’s miners. Not just on Labor Day, but everyday.
Joseph Main is the Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration