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MSHA won’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines, testing, acting administrator says

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Arlington, VA — The Mine Safety and Health Administration will not require COVID-19 vaccination or weekly negative testing at the nation’s mines, Jeanette Galanis, MSHA deputy assistant secretary for policy and acting administrator, said during a Sept. 29 stakeholder conference call.

Galanis called the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 “one of the strongest worker protection acts in the world.” Under the act, MSHA can issue hygiene citations and temporarily shut down mine operations at facilities in which the coronavirus is found to be spreading, a provision “very different” than the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, under which OSHA operates. An emergency rule under development by OSHA will require employers with at least 100 workers to ensure full vaccination or weekly negative testing of their workforce.

Galanis and other agency officials on the call pointed to updated guidance, issued by MSHA in March, that advises mine operators at coal, metal and nonmetal mines to establish a virus protection program or augment an existing one. Best practices include:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment of the mine site.
  • Identify various measures that help limit the spread of COVID-19 in mines.
  • Adopt measures to ensure miners who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home.
  • Implement anti-retaliation measures for miners who raise concerns related to COVID-19.
 

The guidance also includes recommendations on the use of personal protective equipment, physical distancing strategies, improving ventilation, effective hygiene and routine cleaning.

“We must be able to inspect mines during COVID,” Galanis said, “and so our mine inspectors are doing their jobs and getting out there and trying to be as careful as possible.”

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