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MSHA News Release No. 98-0304
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Katharine Snyder
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Wednesday, March 4, 1998

MINE SAFETY CHIEF ASKS RESOURCES TO COMBAT FATALITIES, BLACK LUNG

Reversing a rise in mine fatalities at metal and nonmetal operations and reducing coal miners' respirable dust exposure that can cause black lung are among key commitments for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the coming fiscal year, according to Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

McAteer testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations on February 26 concerning the agency's Fiscal Year (FY) 1999 appropriation request. MSHA's appropriation request for FY 1999 includes $211.1 million and 2,243 employees (full-time equivalents, or FTE), an increase of $7.8 million and 57 employees (FTE) over FY 1998. MSHA staffing has declined annually since FY 1993, when agency appropriations included 2,571 FTE.

"The Federal mine safety and health program clearly works," McAteer said. "The number of fatal accidents in the mining industry has fallen from 382 in 1969 to a record low in 1996 of 86. In 1997, coal mining deaths fell to an all-time low of 30.

"Unfortunately, 1997 saw an alarming increase in the number of fatal accidents at metal and nonmetal mines. Preliminary data indicate there were 60 deaths at these mines, the highest total in a decade. Rising production of stone, sand, and gravel; an influx of newer and less trained workers; longer work hours to meet production demands; and increased reliance on contractors unfamiliar with mine dangers are among reasons suggested for the increase in fatalities.

"Throughout 1997, MSHA took steps to address fatalities in metal and nonmetal mining. In addition, we conducted an unprecedented sweep of more than 9,000 metal and nonmetal mines in which MSHA personnel talked with more than 100,000 miners and supervisors about the fatalities and how to avoid similar accidents. Our efforts have not yet succeeded; in 1998 we are resolved to find the right mix of actions to drive down the number of fatalities," McAteer said.

In FY 1999, MSHA proposes to place a safety and health specialist in each metal and nonmetal district to target root causes of accidents and injuries and to focus on high-risk mining jobs, locations, and types of operations, McAteer said. MSHA's request for FY 1999 includes $1.2 million and 16 FTE for this and other initiatives designed to target specific mine hazards.

McAteer also stated his belief that a current appropriation "rider" prohibiting MSHA from enforcing training requirements at more than 10,000 nonmetal mines has contributed to the increase in fatal accidents.

"Just three weeks ago, a fatality claimed the life of a 23 year old sand and gravel miner," McAteer said "MSHA found this young worker had not been trained. More than 60 percent of the victims at metal and nonmetal mines, many of them young workers with limited experience, had received inadequate training. Now is the time to ensure that all miners receive the training they need to recognize and avoid safety and health hazards. It is senseless and shameful to allow workers to die owing to a lack of proper training."

MSHA's appropriations request also proposes 40 additional FTE and $2.7 million to expand Federal coal mine respirable dust sampling in the effort to prevent black lung.

"While improvements have been made in the health area, miners remain at risk of developing occupational lung disease," McAteer said. "Today, some 55 thousand former miners are receiving compensation for black lung at a total annual cost of over $1.1 billion."

On November 20, 1996, a Federally-appointed advisory committee--composed of members from industry, labor, and academia--issued a report containing recommendations for more than 100 specific action items affecting every aspect of the Federal respirable dust program.

"A major component of the Federal program to protect miners from hazards of exposure to respirable coal mine dust and silica is bimonthly sampling by mine operators of occupations with a high risk of overexposure," McAteer said. "However, operator samples may not always be representative of the everyday work environment.

"In FY 1999, MSHA will increase monitoring inspections at mines that have difficulty maintaining consistent compliance with dust standards or that submit samples that appear to be unrepresentative of the mine environment," McAteer said.

MSHA's appropriations request for FY 1999 also includes $791,000 and 1 FTE to support strategic management of the agency and information technology needs.

In fiscal year 1999, McAteer said MSHA plans to:

In line with GPRA, McAteer said, MSHA has established seven performance goals that link directly to reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the mining industry:

  1. Reduce the industry nonfatal-days-lost incidence rate to below the average number recorded for the previous five years for all mines;

  2. 2. Reduce the number of fatalities to below the average number recorded for the previous five years in the top three categories of accidents (haulage, roof fall, and machinery);

  3. Increase the percentage of personal exposures in compliance with the permissible level for noise in metal/nonmetal mines by 2 percent;

  4. Increase the percentage of personal exposures for the highest risk occupations in metal/nonmetal mines that are in compliance with the permissible exposure level for silica by 2 percent;

  5. Increase the percent of samples in compliance with the respirable coal mine dust standard as measured by MSHA sampling policy by 2 percent;

  6. Increase the percentage of mines in compliance with new health standards for diesel particulates by 2 percent;

  7. Reduce the abatement time for silica overexposure by 2 percent in the metal/nonmetal mines.

MSHA will continue working with all sectors of the mining community to prevent mine accidents including roof collapses, mine fires, and explosions, McAteer emphasized.

"The mining environment is ever-changing and fraught with danger. We can never relax our vigilance," McAteer said.

McAteer's complete statement to the House Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations, as well as appropriations requests for Department of Labor agencies including MSHA, may be found on the Department of Labor's Web site at www.dol.gov under "What's New," "DOL Budget Appropriations Site."

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