Why We Need Miners

by Joseph Main on December 6, 2013 · 0 comments

Today we celebrate the fourth annual National Miner’s Day. In 2009, Congress proclaimed that each Dec. 6 would be recognized in remembrance of the 1907 Monongah coal mine disaster, which resulted in the deaths of 362 miners and is the worst mining accident in American history. The proclamation designates this date:

“in appreciation, honor and remembrance of the accomplishments and sacrifices of the miners of our Nation; and encourages the people of the United States to participated in local and national activities celebrating and honoring the contributions of miners.”

American miners play a much larger role in our lives than most people realize. They extract a variety of raw materials, such as coal, copper, phosphate, silver, limestone, iron and zinc – ores that are essential components in the products we use every day.

1974: The first shift of miners at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Co. Mine No. 4 near Richlands, Va., leave the elevator. (Credit: National Archives, 556393)

  • Thousands of consumer goods are made with these fundamental materials, ranging from cosmetics to toothpaste, to cookware and dinnerware, to appliances.
  • Gold, silver and copper wiring, ceramic insulators, and silicon processing and memory chips are essential components in smartphones, computers and televisions.
  • Miners produce the gravel, crushed stone, tar, asphalt, road salt and cement used to build the roads we travel on and to make them safer.
  • The bridges we build to span canyons and rivers are built with rock and mineral products produced by miners.
  • Coal, and the electricity generated by coal power, play prominent roles in our homes, businesses and communities.

Miners, who work every day to provide life’s necessities, deserve protection from workplace hazards that have killed tens of thousands and injured hundreds of thousands throughout our history.

In 1907, the same year as the Monongah disaster, a total of 3,000 miners died in tragic accidents. Fatalities numbering in the thousands each year were not uncommon during the first part of the 20th century.

In the 1970s, due in large part to the passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, the yearly fatality average decreased to about 140 people. The 1977 act created the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Department of Labor to oversee the safety and health of miners.

Thirty-five years later, we have seen the lowest fatality rate in this nation’s history. And, through the “End Black Lung – Act Now” initiative and other occupational health efforts, we are making progress in limiting miners’ exposure to respirable dust and other harmful contaminants. While more needs to be done to prevent death, injury and illness in the nation’s mines, our efforts and collaboration with labor and industry stakeholders are showing positive results.

We will continue to work hard to send miners home safe and healthy at the end of every shift. On this National Miner’s Day, we honor their contributions and thank them for the sacrifices they have made — and we hope the American people will join us.

Joseph Main in the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

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