From the Assistant Secretary's Desk — National Miners Day, December 6, 2012
Today, December 6, 2012, we celebrate the third annual National Miners Day. In 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution marking December 6 as National Miners Day to honor the 362 miners who perished in the Monongah disaster in West Virginia—the worst industrial accident in American history. The resolution recognizes the accomplishments and sacrifices of miners across the nation.
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 MSHA 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 we still have much to do, noticeable progress has been made. We have implemented a number of targeted initiatives to make mines safer. Those include the revised pattern of violations process and impact inspection programs to address problem mines, and the Rules to Live by program aimed at preventing mine deaths that have commonly occurred. These and other actions, along with efforts by the mining industry, have improved compliance and mine safety.
As a result of our collective efforts, both fatality and injury rates in the nation's mines declined to 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. This is a significant achievement that we must all work hard to improve upon.
Another goal aimed at increasing miners' protection from harm was to help give them 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. MSHA has been working hard to fulfill that goal. As a result, investigations of miners' discrimination complaints are now more quickly conducted; furthermore, the Labor Department filed 39 requests during fiscal year 2012 with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission for temporary reinstatements on behalf of miners who submitted complaints of discrimination in the form of a suspension, layoff, discharge or other adverse action. More cases were filed on behalf of miners in 2012 than in any other year on record. Miners need to know that they can have a voice about their safety and health, free of retaliation.
Our efforts to reduce occupational disease and end black lung are also 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 to reduce respirable dust in underground coal mines, thereby reducing black lung in miners, has resulted in the lowest yearly average for respirable dust concentrations in underground coal mines of 0.71 mg/m3 for fiscal year 2012. While more needs to be done to prevent the disease, mines will be more healthy workplaces because of these efforts.
We will continue our commitment to working hard and working in concert with miners, miners' representatives and the mining industry to keep miners safer and healthier on the job. On this National Miners Day, our nation's miners need to know we honor their hard work and will continue to look out for their safety and health so they can go to work every day and at the end of each shift, go home to their families free of injury or illness. We owe them that!