Administration Shafts Miners as Labor Department Readies Rollback of Safety Regulations
Mining was considered the most dangerous industry for workers in the U.S. up until 2001. But stricter regulations, more training and education and better machinery implemented over the years helped to safeguard employees. These days mining doesn’t even break the top 10 list of deadliest jobs. Unfortunately, that could change again.
The Trump Administration is rolling back safety regulations to protect mine owners and operators at the workers’ expense.
The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) which had favored a culture of prevention now wants to amend a ruling that was finalized in January that made workplace conditions safer for metal and nonmetal miners, both above and below ground. That ruling, which went into effect in May, required the examination of work sites before miners began their shifts to make sure they were safe. It also required the reporting of adverse events to employees and in record-keeping.
The Trump administration doesn’t care about that. It just wants to cut regulations and look out for the guys pocketing the revenue, not the workers, despite anything Trump touted on the campaign trail and at his inauguration, when he promised to “make America safe again.” Guess that doesn’t apply to the miners who work in toxic and perilous environments. And those miners totaled roughly 420,000 in 2015—almost three times that of the coal industry, according to the National Mining Association.
In actuality, the proposed amendment really only fulfills Trump’s Executive Order from Jan. 30, to reduce regulations and related costs. By cutting corners on miners’ safety, it could save the government a paltry $27.6 million annually. That is chump change for an industry that pulled in $67.5 billion in 2015 and contributed $154.5 billion to the nation’s GDP that same year.
The proposed changes would allow site examinations to take place either before work begins or as miners begin work. In fact, it states that the agency would not require a specific time frame for the site examination to be conducted. But yet it somehow assures that the examination would be conducted and adverse conditions identified before miners were exposed, despite the fact that they may already be on site working, per the new rule. If it sounds downright impossible for the mine operators to uphold their end of this bargain, that’s because it is.
“Letting miners know about unsafe conditions before they enter a mine is not burdensome or onerous. It’s just common sense,” said Jordan Barab, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017 and editor of Confined Space, an online newsletter about workplace safety and health issues. “This is just another example of the Trump administration caving into mine owners at the expense of miner safety.”
Also, if mine owners and operators correct an adverse event promptly, they would not be required to record that event, or even tell employees about it after the fact. That seems tantamount to lying by omission and stacking the deck against workers for their medical claims of workmen’s compensation if they are exposed to lingering toxic elements or worse.
In the safety ruling from January, it notes that “mining operations have dynamic work environments where work conditions can change rapidly and without warning.” The rulemaking studied reports from January 2010 through December 2015, during which 122 miners were killed in 110 accidents. It also noted that 16 of those deaths may have been prevented if the adverse conditions had been reported and corrective actions were taken by the operators.
To date this year, there have been eight fatalities, compared with 17 annually the past two years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Even on regular days—good days—miners face hazards that could have chronic and lasting effects on their health from working around loud noise, dust, hazardous gases and fumes and heavy metals. And that doesn’t include equipment accidents, explosions or the shifting environments that lead to the terrifying cave-ins like the one last December that left 18 dead and dozens trapped in a coal mine in India.
Featured Photo: Ninety-one men were killed in a fire in the 1972 Sunshine Mine disaster in Idaho. It took a week to find the last survivors, Ron Flory and Tom Wilkinson (MSHA photo).