Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Mining’

Study Finds Unionized Coal Mines Substantially Safer

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Image: Mike Hallnew study shows that miners in unionized coal mines are far less likely to be killed or injured on the job than miners in nonunion operations. The independent study funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that “unionization predicts an 18-33 percent drop in traumatic injuries and a 27-68 percent drop in fatalities.”

The comprehensive study, conducted by Stanford University law professor Alison D. Morantz,  the John A. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School, looked at coal mine fatality and injury statistics from 1993 to 2008.

Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts says the study “quantifies the profound differences in safety underground coal miners experience when working union versus working nonunion.”

He points out that recent mining disasters, including the blast at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine that killed 29 miners last year, the Crandall Canyon (Utah) disaster that killed nine in 2007 and the Sago explosion in 2006 that killed 12 miners, have all been in nonunion mines.

The simple truth is that union mines are safer mines, and this study proves that.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a third-generation coal miner, says he knows “firsthand the vital importance of workers having a voice on the job through their union.”

This study confirms what working people have known all along:  Unions, strong laws, and enforcement are crucial to protecting the lives of our nation’s miners. With all we know today and with all the avenues of prevention available, there is simply no need for even one life to be lost on the job.

Rep. George Miller (R-Calf.) ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee and long-time mine safety advocate says the study shows that

when workers have a voice in the mine through their union, they are safer. In union mines, workers are empowered to point out dangerous conditions to inspectors without fear of retaliation from management. By giving miners the support they need to speak out, unions can save miners’ lives.

The study’s findings suggest that the union safety effect may even have “intensified” since the early 1990s as the UMWA instituted a more comprehensive safety program and expanded training for union safety experts on the local and national levels.

Roberts says that while the study shows union mines are safer, tragedies can still happen, such as the 2001 explosion at the Jim Walters #5 mine in Brookwood, Ala., that killed 13 miners.

We in the UMWA learned hard lessons in that tragedy and others that preceded it. We took steps to provide better protection for our members, and this study demonstrates that those steps are working. We will continue to work as hard as we can to keep the mines where UMWA members work the safest in the world.

Click here for the full report.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on May 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

No Pattern To Be Found

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Ravi BakhruDepartment of Labor news releases rarely get the attention they so rightly deserve. But I’m a fan of giving credit where credit is due, so when Assistant Secretary Joseph Main issued this statement, I perked up.

After an investigation by Federal officials, a mine operated by Massey (think Upper Big Branch explosion) was cited for 29 violations in its Tiller No. 1 Mine. The violations ranged from hazardous roof conditions to inadequate ventilation to, wait for it….

Non-permissible electrical equipment with the potential to explode methane gas.

Section 104(d)(1) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act describes a significant and substantial violation as being “of such nature as could significantly and substantially contribute to the cause and effect of a coal or other mine safety or health hazard.” A violation of this provision essentially means there is a reasonable likelihood that the hazard will result in serious injury or illness. The problem is not just the standard, but in the requisite number of violations that meet the standard to establish a pattern.

Judge David Barbour, who issued an oral ruling (written decision to come) on the matter, found that although he believed all 29 violations had occurred, only 19 of the violations amounted to significant and substantial, 6 less than the 25 needed to establish a pattern. Don’t bother asking if that’s a typo, 25 “significant and substantial” violations are necessary in order to establish a pattern. Establishing a pattern means that any significant and substantial violation found within 90 days thereafter automatically triggers a withdrawal order until the mine has a clean inspection with no S&S violations. In short, establishing a pattern would immensely help those who work in such unsafe conditions by forcing mine operators to clean up or face losing money every day.

“No mine has ever been successfully placed into pattern of violations status.” This is perhaps the most profound statement made with regards to the matter. In 2006, the American public endured the Sago Mine explosion and watched as a single miner emerged with his life. And in April of this year the Upper Big Branch mine exploded, killing 29 coal miners.

Mining is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and we continually disrespect those who risk their lives for our energy by refusing to recognize and fix a broken system of oversight. Employees of these mines should be disgusted, if they aren’t too busy being frightened. The Federal Mine and Health Safety Act is designed to provide regulations and oversight into one of the most hazardous industries known to man. It was not designed to protect the companies who owned the mines, but the average worker who spent a full 8-10 hours in a black hole.

A message needs to be sent to the mine industry: we will no longer tolerate such blatant disregard for workers. We may not be able to bring mining from one of the most dangerous jobs in the world to the safest job in the world, but surely we can help those facing such conditions. And we can do that by easing the restrictions on establishing patterns of violations. Doing so would allow regulators to shut mines down when they see violations deemed S&S, and force mine operators to think about safety more than once every explosion.

About The Author: Ravi Bakhru is a third year law student at George Washington University. He currently works as an intern for Workplace Fairness, and has an interest in pursuing employee rights law in the future. To get in touch with Ravi, you can email him at Ravi.Bakhru@gmail.com.

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