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Miner suspended for complaining about unsafe conditions

January 17, 2012
KEYWORDS health / hepburnia / miners / msha / safety
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coal mineThe U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has announced that Hepburnia Coal Co. Inc. has agreed to provide special training to its employees on the rights provided to miners under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 as well as pay a civil penalty of $3,750 to settle charges of unlawful discrimination against one employee.

On April 6, 2011, David J. Sturgeon Sr. filed a complaint against Hepburnia Coal Co. Inc., a surface mine operator in central Pennsylvania, alleging that the company discriminated against him. The mine owner issued a 30-day suspension to Sturgeon expressly because he was suspected of making safety complaints to MSHA about the company's Shane Mine that resulted in the agency issuing citations for numerous violations. Although he was recalled to work the next day and suffered no monetary damages, Sturgeon alleged that his discipline had a chilling effect on other miners and would inhibit them from making future safety complaints.

In a complaint filed with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, MSHA sought a finding that Hepburnia unlawfully discriminated against an employee in violation of Section 105(c) of the Mine Act. The statute protects miners, their representatives and applicants for employment from retaliation for engaging in safety and/or health-related activities such as identifying hazards, asking for MSHA inspections or refusing to engage in an unsafe act.

The MSHA-developed training Hepburnia has agreed to provide will be given to all of its employees at all of its locations, and will include training on the right to report safety hazards to the operator or MSHA.

"Every miner has the right to identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination or retaliation," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. He called incorporation training requirements on the rights of miners into discrimination settlements "a positive and innovative step toward establishing a health and safety culture in the mining industry." 

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Mining Safety

Phil La Duke
January 22, 2012
Nobody cares much about mining safety, until at least, some of them get themselves trapped in one. Two years ago I presented "Selling Safety in Tough Times" at the XIV International Symposium on Mining Safety in Lima, Peru. Frustrated professionals from as far away as Australia and South Africa came to here ways to make mining in the Andes safer. My presentation was standing room only, and while I would like to think it's because of my acerbic wit and boyish charm, the reality is we KNOW how to make mines safer we just don't do it. Leadership in the mining (and for that matter oil and gas exploration) just have a tough time believing that a disaster might happen to them. A hazard to worker safety (or the environment, for that matter) might costs tens of thousands to fix (probably much more) so a lot of mining companies simply decide to risk it. And why wouldn't they? After firing a worker for reporting hazards (isn't that what we want them to do?) the company was fined a paltry $3,750. Wow. What did the company learn from that? Probably that it can use fear and intimidation to force workers to ignore the risks and work under conditions that may well kill them. At very least they learned that they are able to send a firm message about the consequences of reporting hazards: "we will fire you, and basically get away with it". The government should be ASHAMED that it fined the company so little. They learned that if they treat people like expendable, consumable resources they won't suffer any meaningful consequences. $3,750? That is less than the company pays for one junior manager's company vehicle. $3,750? That might buy the company a computer system, but not a nice one. $3,750? That won't even cover lunch at a board meeting. Where is the public outcry? When miners die in accidents we stand vigil in front of the television and applaud the heroism of the rescue workers. Where is the support for workers who are fired because they report unsafe working conditions. As long as workers continue to be treated like chattel we are headed for ruin. Phil La Duke Rockford Greene International www.rockfordgreene.com www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com www.philladuke.wordpress.com

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