Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977
The Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 provides the framework for the actions of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The 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 22 year to date (July 17, 2007). 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.
Underground mining in the United States is regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which employs nearly one safety inspector for every four coal mines. Underground coal mines are inspected at least four times annually by MSHA inspectors. In addition, miners can report violations, and request additional inspections. Miners with such concerns for their work safety cannot be penalized with any threat to the loss of employment.
Immediately reportable accidents and injuries are:
- A death of an individual at a mine;
- An injury to an individual at a mine which has a reasonable potential to cause death;
- An entrapment of an individual for more than thirty minutes;
- An unplanned inundation of a mine by a liquid or gas;
- An unplanned ignition or explosion of gas or dust;
- An unplanned mine fire not extinguished within 30 minutes of discovery;
- An unplanned ignition or explosion of a blasting agent or an explosive;
- An unplanned roof fall at or above the anchorage zone in active workings where roof bolts are in use; or, an unplanned roof or rib fall in active workings that impairs ventilation or impedes passage;
- A coal or rock outburst that causes withdrawal of miners or which disrupts regular mining activity for more than one hour;
- An unstable condition at an impoundment, refuse pile, or culm bank which requires emergency action in order to prevent failure, or which causes individuals to evacuate an area; or, failure of an impoundment, refuse pile or culm bank;
- Damage to hoisting equipment in a shaft or slope which endangers an individual or which interferes with use of the equipment for more than thirty minutes; and
- An event at a mine which causes death or bodily injury to an individual not at the mine at the time the event occurs.
Additionally, the Mine Safety and Health Act authorizes the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop recommendations for mine health standards for the Mine Safety and Health Administration; administer a medical surveillance program for miners, including chest X-rays to detect pneumoconiosos (black lung disease) in coal miners; conduct on-site investigations in mines; and test and certify personal protective equipment and hazard-measurement instruments.
Statistical analyses performed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that between 1990 and 2004, the industry cut the rate of injuries (a measure comparing the rate of incidents to overall number of employees or hours worked) by more than half and fatalities by two-thirds following three prior decades of steady improvement.
In 1891, the United States Congress passed the first federal statute governing mine safety. 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.
After the loss of more than 1000 workers from 1907-1909 in mining disasters, such as the Monongah Mining Disaster, the Progressive Movement pushed for governmental regulations to improve working conditions in the mines. Mine operators hoped to stave off this government regulatory control by the implementation of their own safety practices. However Congress was pressured in 1910 to establish the US Bureau of Mines, an agency of the Department of Interior, to further research mine safety problems and conduct mine inspections. The Bureau did help establish some safety standards, but had little enforcement power to correct infractions. 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.
The Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1952 provided for annual inspections in certain underground coal mines, 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 coal mines.
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 Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, generally referred to as the Coal Act, was more comprehensive and had more enforcement power than 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 coal mines. The Coal Act also required monetary penalties for all violations, albeit not large, and established criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The safety standards for all coal mines 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, known as 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. (MESA was the predecessor organization to MSHA, prior to March 9, 1978.)
Articles & resources
- Aracoma Alma Mine accident
- Coal mining accidents
- Health effects of coal
- Longwall mining
- Mine Safety and Health Administration
- Monongah Mining Disaster
- Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster
- Sago Mine Disaster
- "History of Mine Safety and Health Legislation" Mine Safety and Health Administration Website, accessed November 2009
- "Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977" U.S. Department of Labor Website, accessed November 2009
- "About NIOSH" United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, accessed November 2009
- "Historical Data on Mine Disasters in the United States" United States Department of Labor Website, accessed November 2009
- "Monongah Mining Disaster" Boise State Website, accessed November 2009