COVID-19 pandemic: Bipartisan bill would compel MSHA to issue emergency temporary standard
Washington — Bipartisan legislation recently reintroduced in the House and Senate would require the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard aimed at protecting mine workers from exposure to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act – introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and six co-sponsors in the Senate – also would compel mine operators to:
- Develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan, integrating guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIOSH, and relevant scientific research
- Provide miners with personal protective equipment
- In cooperation with CDC and NIOSH, track, analyze and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data to inform recommendations and guidance
“For centuries, our miners have worked tirelessly to power America and keep the lights on,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said in a press release. “It is vital that we take the necessary steps to provide them safety and job security as we continue to battle COVID-19.”
President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 signed an Executive Order directing OSHA and MSHA to consider ETSs related to COVID-19, calling on the agencies to issue an ETS by March 15 should such action be regarded as necessary.
In a statement, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts calls an ETS from MSHA “long overdue.” Although he lauds the signing of the order, he believes MSHA might not take the action to issue an ETS if “left to its own devices.” The reintroduction of the legislation, however, boosts Roberts’ confidence that the agency will issue an ETS.
“This legislation will ensure that MSHA will issue such an order, enforce it and then make it permanent,” Roberts said.
According to UMWA, more than 500 union miners have contracted COVID-19 over the past 11 months, triggering numerous hospitalizations and some fatalities.
In May, Manchin introduced the bipartisan COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act (S. 3170), the provisions of which included requiring MSHA to issue within seven days of enactment an ETS on infectious diseases, followed by a final rule. The bill failed to advance past the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
On June 16, UMWA and the United Steelworkers sued the Department of Labor and MSHA in an effort to compel MSHA to issue an ETS. The unions alleged in their joint emergency petition, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, that “if MSHA fails to issue an ETS to address this unprecedented crisis, the life and health of tens of thousands of miners will be placed in grave danger as a result of the miners’ increased exposure to COVID-19.”
Senate Democrats Mark Warner (VA), Dick Durbin (IL), Tim Kaine (VA), Bob Casey (PA) and Sherrod Brown (OH) also co-sponsored the bill.