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DOL shuffle: Wayne Palmer takes over as acting head of MSHA

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Washington – Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta on Aug. 21 appointed Wayne Palmer acting assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Part of President Donald Trump’s transition team’s Department of Labor staff, Palmer had been serving as DOL’s chief of staff. Palmer will be replaced by DOL solicitor Nicholas Geale.

“While the department awaits the confirmation of the next assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the secretary is confident that Mr. Palmer’s abilities and government experience will complement the eventual nominee’s deep industry expertise. In the meantime, Mr. Palmer will collaborate with senior career staff, who bring decades of experience to the table, on immediate priorities to improve the safety and health conditions for all American miners,” Eric Holland, deputy assistant secretary of labor, public affairs, said when contacted by Safety+Health for a comment.

Reaction to the appointment from mine safety advocates has been cautious to negative because of Palmer’s limited mining industry experience. Mining deaths in 2017 are ahead of last year’s pace, according to MSHA.

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts said the rise in deaths and injuries brings Palmer’s background into sharp relief.

“The appointment of someone with absolutely no apparent experience in mine safety and health to this position is troubling, to say the least,” Roberts said in an Aug. 22 press release. “Mr. Palmer may be a fine man and has experience working in the government, but what does he know about float coal dust and its dangers? What does he know about the need for ventilation, roof control, rock dusting and a hundred other things that the person in charge of keeping our miners safe and secure needs to know?”

Palmer has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

Geale told the Bloomberg labor blog “Punching In” that Palmer had been looking forward to the move.

“It’s what Wayne ultimately wanted to do,” Geale said. “He’s from Pennsylvania, and mining is in his family’s background.”

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