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MSHA News Release No. 95-012
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

March 30, 1995

MSHA COMMEMORATES 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF COAL ACT

The Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today marked the 25th anniversary of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 in a ceremony at the department's headquarters in Washington, D.C. This pivotal piece of legislation gave American miners the most comprehensive and effective workplace protection in U.S. history.

The law, which went into effect March 30, 1970, strengthened safety standards for all coal mines and established unprecedented health standards. It required a minimum of two annual inspections of surface coal mines and four annual inspections of underground mines. Federal mine inspectors were granted authority to shut down mines with life-threatening hazards and to order prompt correction of cited safety and health hazards.

Among the speakers at today's ceremony were Thomas Glynn, deputy labor secretary; J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health; Richard Lawson, president and CEO of the National Mining Association; Richard Trumka, president of the United Mine Workers of America; Joseph P. Brennan, president of the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association; George Becker, international president, United Steelworkers of America, and Paul C. Mellott, Jr., vice chairman of the board and executive committee, National Stone Association. More than 300 industry and government representatives attended the event.

"This act has provided a federal regulatory scheme that works," said McAteer. "It has significantly reduced deaths and injuries in the mines as well as lowered the risks to miners' health. Statistics tell the story: Coal miners were almost five times as likely to be killed in the mines in 1969 as they are today."

"The Coal Act is a law that works," said Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich in a previously taped video shown at the ceremony. "It's become fashionable lately to dump on Washington, to say the federal government is just too nosy, too demanding, makes too many rules. The triumph of the mine safety and health program serves to remind us of the good that government can do."

Passage of the act was fueled in large part by the death in November 1968 of 78 coal miners in a Farmington, W.Va., mine explosion. Miners angered by the dangerous conditions perpetuated by the industry marched on the West Virginia state capitol and on Washington, demanding action of the U.S. Congress and federal agencies.

Statistics illustrate the dramatic impact that the 1969 law has had on the mining industry. More than 250 workers on average died annually in coal mining accidents during the three-year period prior to passage of the legislation. Between 1992-94, the average number of annual coal mining deaths has totalled fewer than 50.

Exposure to respirable dust in coal mines, the cause of black lung disease, has also been reduced during the last 25 years by an average of 75 percent, and the prevalence of black lung disease among miners has declined by more than two-thirds.

Despite warnings that this law would adversely affect coal production and drive operators out of business, the opposite has been true. Coal production has risen from 610 million tons in 1969 to around one billion tons in 1994. That translates into a $54 billion industry that generates 57 percent of the nation's electrical power.

"Mining is literally the bedrock of the U.S. economy," said Reich. "We can hardly imagine our lives without the products of the mineral industry -- without gold and gravel, salt and stone, computer chips and cosmetics. But we sometimes forget where these marvels come from -- and the work that was necessary to get them."

"This agency's regulatory scheme has succeeded in large measure because of the dedication of the thousands of people in the mining industry, in labor unions and in MSHA, first in accepting the law and then working to see that compliance is achieved," said McAteer.

"Some may have disagreed over tactics or priorities, but they never lost sight of the ultimate goal: an alliance of labor, management and government deeply committed to making the mines safer and healthier."

Warning against complacency, McAteer added, "We've still got work to do, especially in the area of health."