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Mine Safety and Health Administration

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The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is an agency of the Department of Labor that promotes, protects, and enforces safety and health for all miners in the United States. The MSHA is based on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The aim of the Mine Act is to eradicate accidents and fatalities within mines and to provide protection and support for miners and their employers on safe working conditions.

MSHA is divided into several departments under the current secretary of labor, Richard Stickler. The coal mine division comprises 11 departments; and the metal-nonmetal mine safety and health division is expanded to cover six regions throughout the U.S.

Although the MSHA was not fully established until the late 1970s after a series of disastrous mining accidents, it did have roots for its precedent dating as early as 1865.


[edit] History

[edit] Early Beginnings

The history of the MSHA began at the end of the 19th century when legislature in certain states began to focus on the health and safety of miners and their working conditions. Pennsylvania was the first state to pass an act, the Coal Mine Inspection Act of 1869. Other states pursued this concern around 1890 and 1891. Even though it marked a change in the rights of miners and concern for their health and safety, legislation took time to progress. This was evidenced by the inability to pass a bill in 1865 that would have created the Federal Mining Bureau.

Congress did, however, come around to passing mining safety legislature. In 1891, a law calling for the inspection of coal mines was introduced. The statute, although brief, made the following requirement: mines should have at least two mine shafts; slopes and other outlets required a minimum ventilation of 3,300 cubic feet (93 m3) of air per minute per 50 miners. Other requirements included safety catches on man hoists and prohibited employment of children 12 years of age and under; and use of furnace shafts for means of escape.[1] Congress initiated a penalty fine of up to $500 for mines that did not correct unsafe conditions within a certain amount of time and were even able to issue injunctions to halt mining operations until suitable conditions and standards were met.[2]

Accidents within the mining industry led to further changes within Congress. They established the Bureau of Mines in the Department of the Interior in 1910. The agency was responsible for carrying out investigations and researching technology and equipment that would improve the conditions of mines and the miners employed in them. Even though the agency was free to make recommendations that would improve the industry, they were not able to vigorously enforce them.

Instead, more mining accidents and fatalities occurred, making it clear that Congress had to do more. Congress passed the Coal Mine Inspection Act in 1941. This act called for the inspection of mines by the Bureau of Mines and an inspection unit was created therein. Even though guidelines were proposed, the agency was not granted the authority to ensure their adherence.

One of the major breakthroughs was the coalmine strike of 1946. It demanded the attention of President Truman who saw the coalmines issue as a matter of national security and a stable economy. The result was an order for the Secretary of the Interior to take on the operation of all coalmines that were directly affected by the strike. The current Secretary of the Interior, J.A. Krug, established the Office of Coal Mines Administration on May 21, 1946. Eight days later, Krug, as the coalmine administrator, and president of the United Mine Workers of America, John L. Lewis, signed the Krug-Lewis Agreement. The contract consisted of an agreement for the Bureau of Mines to issue a code of standards for the health and safety of mining practices and conditions. The code regulated the conditions of the mines until the mines were returned to their original owners in 1947.

During this time, accidents continued to prevail in American mines so the Congress ordered that the Secretary of the Interior report all such violations to the State so they could be rectified. Violators were penalized, a measure enforced by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. The Senate only took matters into their own hands for one year only and called on the States to protect the safety of their miners.

[edit] Mining Fatalities

Further steps were taken on December 21, 1951 when the Franklin Coal Co. Mine in Illinois exploded and killed 119 miners. The incident pushed the Congress to pass the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1952. In 1966, this act was altered to cover all underground coalmines.[3]

The most recent version of this is the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The act was the result of several acts and events that led to its induction. The Coal Act of 1969 acted as a catalyst for increased federal responsibility for the protection and safety of the miner. It was improved upon by several tragedies that occurred in mines over the next several years, including the bursting of the coalmine impoundment dam in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia that killed 125 people. Similarly, a raging fire broke out in the Sunshine Silver Mine in Kellogg, Idaho. The incident killed 91 miners. These tragedies continued to push the Bureau to accept more responsibility and to strive harder in protecting the health and safety of miners. But the continuing problem lay in creating an authority that could impose accountability.

Congress once again saw itself applying pressure when nine West Virginian miners were trapped in a burning mine for what amounted to lack of emergency training. After this incident in July 1972, the Department of the Interior established the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA), an agency that would adamantly pursue violators and oversee conduct within mines. The Bureau of Mines and MESA both reported to the Assistant Secretary.

The 1972 disasters were investigated and shortly after two explosions occurred within days of each other at the Scotia Coal Mine near Whitesburg, Kentucky. The blast killed 26 people and investigations proceeded. The conclusions led to the subcommittee instigating the bill (S.717) on February 11, 1977 under Senator Harrison Williams. The focus was increased and improved the safety of mines and the health of the miners. On November 9, 1977, President Nixon signed the Mine Act and amended the 1969 Coal Act. The Mine Act, covering both coal and non-coal mines and facilities, referred the responsibility of health and safety from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor. The result was the establishment of the MSHA with a separate assistant secretary of Labor enforcing the act. The first step was to revise and review all the previous rules and procedures that had been adopted in the past. An independent adjudicatory commission consisting of five members was also created. The Mine Act still retained a lot of the features and regulations that were prevalent in the 1969 Coal Act but contained many new ones as well. The main feature was that the act was representative of the entire mining industry, stating that: “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.”[4]

[edit] The Company Today

President George Bush appointed Richard E. Stickler to serve as the assistant secretary of labor and head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration on October 19, 2006. Stickler is currently the head of the MSHA.

Recently, the Mine Act established the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent commission that reviews the MSHA’s enforcement responsibilities.

Since the establishment of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, mining fatalities have experienced a significant decrease, likely on part of the Mine Act.

[edit] References

  1. Rabinowitz, Randy. Occupational Safety and Health Law. BNA Books, 2004.
  2. Information about the Assistant Secretary. U.S. Department of Labor, 2008-09-30.
  3. Information about the Assistant Secretary. U.S. Department of Labor, 2008-09-30.
  4. Rabinowitz, Randy. Occupational Safety and Health Law. BNA Books, 2004.

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