Senator reintroduces legislation on mine safety, OSH Act protections

Washington – Legislation reintroduced Jan. 25 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is aimed at improving safety at both mine and nonmine workplaces.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act of 2011 (S. 153) is similar to legislation Rockefeller introduced last year. Both bills were named for Rockefeller’s fellow West Virginia senator who died in June.

The bill would address issues regarding mine safety laws that came to light following the disaster in April at Upper Big Branch Mine-South that killed 29 miners.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Greater whistleblower protections
  • Miners receive paychecks even if their mines are closed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration for safety-related reasons
  • Creation of an independent, NIOSH-appointed team to investigate both mine operators and MSHA in the event of a serious accident
  • A variety of additional MSHA enforcement tools, including subpoena powers and easier ability to seek injunctions to stop dangerous practices
  • Increases to maximum civil and criminal penalties and requirements to pay penalties in a timely manner

“The tragic deaths of hardworking miners serve as a constant reminder of the need for mine safety measures that are strong and effective,” said bill sponsor and Byrd successor Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

The bill also would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act to increase protections for employees at nonmine workplaces. The changes – many of which correspond to legislation currently in the House – would increase criminal penalties, update civil penalties, prevent litigation from delaying hazard abatement, strengthen whistleblower protections, and provide greater rights for victims and families.

“Workers in every industry should be able to feel confident that while they work hard and do their jobs, their employers are doing everything they can to keep them safe,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said.

Similar bills in the House last year faced strong GOP opposition and failed to pass the then-Democrat-controlled chamber. Current Republican leaders (who now control the House) said they would focus on greater oversight on the government and limiting regulations that may harm economic growth.

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