The House Education and Labor Committee, chaired by George Miller (D-CA), issued a progress report on MSHA’s implementation of the MINER Act of 2006. The report says implementation by the agency and mining industry of certain provisions of the new law are “proceeding too slowly,” including inadequate application of underground communication and tracking devices. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blog “The Gavel” quickly linked to the report and provides some politico-historical context. For me, the most promising aspect of the report is the Committee and staff’s appreciation for the multitude of other health and safety hazards faced by miners, not just those associated with the tragic disasters in January 2006 at the Sago and Alma mines.
The Committee report acknowledges that miners continue to develop silicosis and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and suggests that a new permissible exposure limit may be in order. It notes the dangers of retreat mining and indicates a ban on the practice may be needed. It acknowledges the ineffective regulatory process under which MSHA (and OSHA) operates, calling it a “quagmire for efforts to delay or weaken badly needed” worker protections. It suggests the potential benefit of a “general-duty” clause for the Mine Act (unlike Section 5(a)(1) in the OSH Act, there is currently no such provision in MSHA’s statutue.) And perhaps most importantly, the need to evaluate decisions rendered by the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and their consequences for injury and illness prevention.