Founding father of modern mine safety honored at centennial event

News Release Posted [June 28,2016]

Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association created in 1916

BRANSON, Mo. – More than a century ago, a legendary and passionate safety advocate had an extraordinary vision for mine safety. In the early 1900s, mining deaths were practically the rule not the exception. In fact, more than 24,000 coal miners perished in industry accidents between 1900 and 1910.

In the wake of these tragedies, Congress established the Bureau of Mines in May 1910. President Taft appointed Dr. Joseph A. Holmes as the bureau’s first director. A humanitarian and mine safety advocate, Holmes set out to make mine work safer through accident prevention, education and first aid training. His greatest achievement was in the area of emergency response. Under Holmes’ direction, the bureau established mine rescue teams that could travel by rail to emergencies in Pullman cars built specifically for that purpose. By 1915, Holmes had overseen the training and education of more than 33,000 miners. From 1910-15, at least 200 miners were rescued from mines successfully after an explosion or other disaster.

Dr. Joseph A. Holmes

In 1916 – one year after his death – representatives of leading mining organizations came together to memorialize the man who led the march toward safer mines. They established the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association “as a method of expressing the universal feeling of respect for Dr. Joseph A. Holmes” and his lifelong work.

From June 28-30, 2016, mine safety professionals from around the U.S. and Canada are gathering in Branson to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this organization. The Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association and the Holmes Mine Rescue Association Annual Meeting and Training Seminar will feature workshops on a variety of safety and health topics, including mine rescue and recovery, refuge alternatives, mine emergency planning, task training, workplace examinations and contractor safety.

In his keynote address at the event, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main noted that Dr. Holmes’ legacy continues today. “The progress made in mine safety and health in the past century is clear, and 2015 has now become the new benchmark for mine safety and health,” he said.

“The year 2015 was the safest year in the history of mining, with 28 mining deaths nationwide,” Main said. “But the 14 deaths so far this year remind us that we still have work to do.”

When he arrived at the Mine Safety and Health Administration in 2009 – nearly a century after Holmes served as director of the Bureau of Mines – Main faced a number of challenges. “I understood that more actions were needed to improve miners’ safety and health through better protections and mine emergency readiness,” he said.

“I knew we would need to engage the entire mining community in this effort and use all of our tools – including enforcement, education, training, outreach and regulation – if we were to make progress. I also knew that MSHA would need to improve how we conduct business, through better consistency in the implementation of the Mine Act and guidance to the mining industry.”

In his remarks today, Main also touted a number of significant outcomes of the last seven years:

  • Since 2010, mining deaths and injuries have fallen to historic lows.
  • Levels of respirable dust – including silica – in coal mines are at an all-time low.
  • Mines have significantly improved their compliance with safety and health standards, and have been cited with fewer violations.
  • Miners have greater protections against retaliation and a stronger voice in the workplace.
  • The agency has made major improvements in mine emergency response.
  • Communication and collaboration between MSHA and industry stakeholders have greatly improved.

Watch the video about Joseph A. Holmes and the history of the organization founded in his name.


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Media Contact:

Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423,

Release Number: 16-1338-NAT