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Labor Law: Mine Safety and Health Act
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act passed in 1969 and were last substantially amended in 1977. There has been just one amendment to the Act since 1977; that was a penalty increase in 1990 enacted not for safety and health policy reasons, but to raise revenue for the federal government.
The Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, and the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, have been among the most successful laws that the Congress has every enacted. It provides for a comprehensive approach to mine safety and health combining enforcement with education and training as well as a wide range of cooperative efforts to promote safety and health throughout the mining industry. Total mine fatalities in the decade before enactment of the 1977 law ranged from 435 to 254. In the 1990's, annual deaths in mining have ranged from 112 to 80.The American mining industry today is the world leader in safety and health. This is a significant accomplishment for which industry, labor, and government all deserve credit (Ruffennach C. Gregory, Saving Lives or Wasting Resources? The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act)
But while the Mine Act has not been amended since 1977, the mining industry has changed dramatically, and for that matter, statistically, the nature and causes of injuries and fatalities in mining have also changed dramatically since 1977. Yet MSHA operates under the same procedures and rules that were passed in 1977. (http://www.msha.gov/)
In 1891, Congress passed the first federal statute governing mine safety, marking the beginning of what was to be an extended evolution of increasingly comprehensive federal legislation regulating mining activities. The 1891 law was relatively modest legislation that applied only to mines in U.S. territories, and, among other things, established minimum ventilation requirements at underground coal mines and prohibited operators from employing children under 12 years of age. (Rifkin, B., American labor sourcebook. 1979)
In 1910, following a decade in which the number of coalmine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau of Mines as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was charged with the responsibility to conduct research and to reduce accidents in the coal mining industry, but was given no inspection authority until 1941, when Congress empowered federal inspectors to enter mines. In 1947, Congress authorized the formulation of the first code of federal regulations for mine safety. (Outten, W.N., Rights of employees: the basic ACLU guide to an employee's rights.)
The Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1952 provided for annual inspections in certain underground coalmines, and gave the Bureau limited enforcement authority, including power to issue violation notices and imminent danger withdrawal orders. The 1952 Act also authorized the assessment of civil penalties against mine operators for noncompliance with withdrawal orders or for refusing to give inspectors access to mine property, although no provision was made for monetary penalties for noncompliance with the safety provisions. In 1966, Congress extended coverage of the 1952 Coal Act to all underground coalmines.
The first federal statute directly regulating non-coal mines did not appear until the passage of the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966. The 1966 Act provided for the promulgation of standards, many of which were advisory, and for inspections and investigations; however, its enforcement authority was minimal.
The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, generally referred to as the Coal Act, was more comprehensive and more stringent than any previous Federal legislation governing the mining industry. The Coal Act included surface as well as underground coal mines within its scope, required two annual inspections of every surface coal mine and four at every underground coal mine, and dramatically increased federal enforcement powers in coalmines. (Guide to American law: everyone's legal encyclopedia & Annual Supplements. 1984.)
The Coal Act also required monetary penalties for all violations, and established criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The safety standards for all coalmines were strengthened, and health standards were adopted.
The Coal Act included specific procedures for the development of improved mandatory health and safety standards, and provided compensation for miners who were totally and permanently disabled by the progressive respiratory disease caused by the inhalation of fine coal dust pneumoconiosis or "black lung."
In 1973, the Secretary of the Interior, through administrative action, created the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) as a new departmental agency separate from the Bureau of Mines. MESA assumed the safety and health enforcement functions formerly carried out by the Bureau to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest between the enforcement of mine safety and health standards and the Bureau's responsibilities for mineral resource development.
Most recently, Congress passed the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), the legislation that currently governs MSHA's activities. The Mine Act amended the 1969 Coal Act in a number of significant ways, and consolidated all federal health and safety regulations of the mining industry, coal as well as non-coal mining, under a single statutory scheme. The Mine Act strengthened and expanded the rights of miners, and enhanced the protection of miners from retaliation for exercising such rights.
Mining fatalities dropped sharply under the Mine Act from 272 in 1977 to 86 in 2000. The Mine Act also transferred responsibility for carrying out its mandates from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor, and named the new agency the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Additionally, the Mine Act established the independent Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to provide for independent review of the majority of MSHA's enforcement actions.
President Chester A. Arthur signed the bill creating the Bureau of Labor in the Department of the Interior on June 27, 1884. His signature culminated two decades of advocacy by labor organizations seeking government assistance in publicizing and improving the status of the growing industrial workforce.
Those two decades following the War Between the States saw vast changes in the American economy and society. Those decades brought about a national economy symbolized by the transcontinental railroads. Rapidly growing industries attracted unprecedented numbers of unskilled workers recruited from among immigrants, freed slaves, women, and even children.
Within a decade of the Bureau's establishment, from the mid-1890s on, it published extensively on new developments in State and foreign social legislation and practices, including accident prevention and workers' compensation.
This began a long and continuing commitment to the presentation of useful information on occupational safety and health.
According to the legislation behind the Act each coal or other mine, the products of which enter commerce, or the operations or products of which affect commerce, and each operator of such mine, and every miner in such mine shall be subject to the provisions of this Act. (Kelly, M.A., Labor and industrial relations: terms, laws, court decisions)
The first priority and concern of all in the coal or other mining industry must be the health and safety of its most precious resource -- the miner;
Deaths and serious injuries from unsafe and unhealthful conditions and practices in the coal or other mines cause grief and suffering to the miners and to their families;
There is an urgent need to provide more effective means and measures for improving the working conditions and practices in the Nation's coal or other mines in order to prevent death and serious physical harm, and in order to prevent occupational diseases originating in such mines
The existence of unsafe and unhealthful conditions and practices in the Nation's coal or other mines is a serious impediment to the future growth of the coal or other mining industry and cannot be tolerated
The operators of such mines with the assistance of the miners have the primary responsibility to prevent the existence of such conditions and practices in such mines
The disruption of production and the loss of income to operators and miners as a result of coal or other mine accidents or occupationally caused diseases unduly impedes and burdens commerce; and It is the purpose of this Act
To establish interim mandatory health and safety standards and to direct the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Secretary of Labor to develop and promulgate improved mandatory health or safety standards to protect the health and safety of the Nation's coal or other miners
To require that each operator of a coal or other mine and every miner in such mine comply with such standards
To cooperate with, and provide assistance to, the States in the development and enforcement of effective State coal or other mine health and safety programs; and To improve and expand, in cooperation with the States and the coal or other mining industry, research and development and training programs aimed at preventing coal or other mine accidents and occupationally caused diseases in the industry.
Under the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, as amended by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, MSHA has…[continue]
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