Skip to content

From the Assistant Secretary's Desk — Workers' Memorial Day

Joseph A. Main - Assistant Secretary of Labor  for Mine Safety and Health

April 28 th is Workers' Memorial Day, a day to remember workers who have lost their lives on the job. These workers include our nation’s miners, who we mourn as well. Since 1977 over 4,000 miners have died on the job in the nation’s mines.

The Department of Labor has proclaimed that "No worker should sacrifice their life for their livelihood." We at MSHA share that view. Our core mission is aimed at improving safety and health in the Nation's mines, and the dedicated staff at MSHA takes that mission seriously. To that end, we launched a number of actions and initiatives to improve upon the implementation of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act as amended (Mine Act), to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths.

Our increased efforts to better protect miners from occupational illness includes our End Black Lung—NOW campaign to end an incurable but preventable disease that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of coal miners, as well as our 5002 initiative at metal nonmetal mines designed to protect miners from harmful airborne contaminants for dust, gas and mist.

To prevent mining injuries and deaths, we have implemented our “Rules to Live By” initiative to prevent the most common causes of mining deaths and initiated enhanced enforcement programs, including our impact inspection program conducted at mines that merit increased attention due to poor compliance or other particular concerns and our revised Pattern of Violations (POV) program targeted at chronic violators. Other actions we took include changes in MSHA enforcement of sampling for coal mine dust explosibility and improved compliance guidance on guarding and fall protection at metal and nonmetal mines.

We have targeted our rulemaking in areas that will have the greatest impact on miners’ safety and health, such as the rock dust rule to prevent coal mine dust explosions like the one that occurred at the Upper Big Branch mine; the final POV rule to rein in chronic violators, which aligns the rule with the original intent of Congress; and our final Examination rule that requires underground coal mine operators to do a more thorough job of finding and fixing mine safety violations that place miners at risk.

In 2011, MSHA began providing quarterly information on deaths, including best practices to prevent them, to the mining industry and trainers. We have also changed how we roll out MSHA’s initiatives to stakeholders by providing information before implementation, so that everyone understands what we are working to accomplish. In addition, we have expanded our working relationship through alliances with mining industry stakeholders.

We have made administrative and organizational changes within MSHA itself, including splitting Coal District 4 into 2 districts to better manage enforcement; reorganizing our Office of Assessments to better manage and support our special enforcement programs; establishing a centralized directives system to implement better policies; and overhauling our inspection policies to improve mine site enforcement.

We have worked very hard to give miners a better voice on mine safety and health through enforcement of the anti-retaliation provisions in the Mine Act.

The actions we have taken to protect the safety and health of miners have made a difference in the lives of miners, and it has taken all of those involved in mining to accomplish that.

Since we began our End Black Lung-Act Now campaign we have seen a 14% reduction in the yearly average respirable dust concentrations in underground coal mines, and the lowest level ever in FY 2012 of 0.71 mg/m3. That means miners are breathing less unhealthy coal mine dust.

MSHA, working with the Department of Labor, filed 46 temporary reinstatement (TR) requests and 34 105(c) discrimination cases on behalf of miners in 2012, the most ever in a year, according to MSHA records.

Compliance has been improving in the Nation's mines with an 18% improvement over the past two years. In addition, a review of those mines undergoing impact inspections and chronic violators subject to potential pattern of violation actions show compliance and injury rate improvements among those mines as well.

Most importantly, fatality and injury rates from 2011 were at their lowest in mining history, and preliminary data shows that 2012 rates were lower still. We all know it had taken all in the mining industry to achieve these results.

While we have witnessed major improvements over the years---2012 saw 35 mining deaths compared to 273 in 1977 when the Mine Act was enacted--- more needs to be done to protect our miners.

One death, one injury and illness, is one too many and mining deaths, injuries and illnesses are preventable. We all know we have to work harder so that miners can go to work, do their jobs, and return home to their families safe and healthy at the end of every shift. We just released the 1st quarter report on the 11 deaths in the mining industry. That makes that point clear. On this worker memorial day, we reaffirm our commitment to our mission to improve mine safety and health.