Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Thursday, January 05, 2006

MSHA To Mine Companies: Don't Worry, This Won't Hurt Any More Than A Speeding Ticket

I discussed the Administration's MSHA cutbacks yesterday and the ridiculously low fines at the Sago mine the other day. Brendan Coyne elaborates further in AlterNet:
Bush appointees have also eliminated regulations designed to protect miners. For instance, David Lauriski, a former mining-company official who was appointed to head the MSHA in 2001, altered a rule requiring mines to have at least two separate exit paths. The regulation is one of seventeen aimed at making mining less dangerous that the MSHA has undone since 2001, according to the government watchdog OMB Watch.

United Mine Workers of America Secretary-Treasurer Dan Kane told CNN yesterday that when considering official's commitment to enforcement, it's important to "look at the level of violations, the number of unwarrantable failures that were issued," but also "the amount of the fines."

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) website, the agency issued 208 separate citations to the Sago mine totaling just under $25,000 in 2005. A spokesperson for the West Virginia Office of Miners' Safety and Health told the Associated Press that it had slapped owners of the mine with 144 citations of its own last year. Both the state and federal citations mark an increase over the previous year.

"In many cases," Kane told CNN, "fines are issued that amount to what you and I may pay for a speeding ticket out on the Beltway. Fines have to be incentives to enforce the law. We can't allow them to become just another cost of doing business to the coal company."
Coyne also adds a not-so-subtle dig at the AFL-CIO's roll-back of its safety and health resources at the same time that the Bush administration rolls back government protections:
While the federal government eased mine safety regulations, the nation's largest conglomerate of unions, the AFL-CIO, controversially shuttered its own organization's health-and-safety office last year, cutting staff and folding it into a larger government-affairs office, as TNS reported in May.

"We don't know if Monday's mine explosion was related to the cited conditions, but it certainly is another in a long line of wake-up calls for increased government and industry attention to workers' safety on the job. Regardless of the cause, our nation's safety and health laws must be strengthened," AFl-CIO president John Sweeney said in a statement issued before the fate of the twelve West Virginia miners was known.
I'd think maybe this should be a wake-up call to the AFL-CIO as well. And in the spirit of equal trashing, Change to Win (the unions that broke away from the AFL-CIO last year) has NO health and safety staff and doesn't even mention the issue in their bylaws, or anywhere on their website that I can find.)

Wake up calls all around!

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