Monday, December 18, 2006

Another Miner Dies. Will Stickler Rise To The Challenge?

As funeral preparations get under way for the 47th coal miner of 2006 to die in the workplace, the Charleston Gazette once again takes down the Bush administration's sellout of American miners:
For example, at surface mines, monster trucks used to haul coal and rock are involved in numerous fatalities, often because their brakes are faulty and are not adequately inspected. In other cases, drivers cannot see other workers in the vehicles’ blind spots. Some safety equipment would help prevent these deaths. Video scanners can be mounted to the trucks and rigged to come on automatically when a driver shifts into reverse, giving the driver a view of what’s behind. But both federal and state agencies have dawdled about requiring this lifesaving precaution.

During the Clinton administration, Davitt McAteer, then head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, asked mine operators to install such video cameras voluntarily. He sought industry opinions on a rule that would require them. But after President Bush took office, MSHA suddenly had other priorities, and the idea was dropped.
But the Gazette's editors are somewhat impressed with the words of controversial MSHA head Richard Stickler. Now if he can only put his money where his mouth is:
President Bush’s most recent appointment to head MSHA, West Virginia native Richard Stickler, has a chance to set these conditions right. So far, he’s saying all the right things. He speaks plainly and sensibly about safety and the need for change. He promises a crackdown on operators who chronically break safety rules. Where the state’s report on the Sago disaster is contradictory and leaves many questions unanswered, Stickler promises a complete report, however long it takes.

“My approach is to be very aggressive,” Stickler said during a visit to the Gazette, “particularly on the attitude that fines are just the cost of doing business.”

Safety starts at the top, Stickler said. Individual miners must have confidence that their employers support following safety rules and reporting problems so they can be corrected.

Less than a month on the job, Stickler sounds good. If he can deliver the action he has promised, miners and their employers will be better off, and President Bush will have made a good appointment and given the nation a good public servant.
Time will tell. Personally, I'd rather be proven wrong by a bad nominee proving himself to be surprisingly good than the other way around.