Following the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension’s approval of bipartisan mining safety legislation introduced last month in Congress, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) applauded the committee and urged continued Congressional cooperation and quick action on the bill.

ASSE wants quick action on the legislation, titled “Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006,” so that miners can know they will have protections from the kinds of safety risks and mine rescue limitations brought to light in a flurry of recent U.S. coal field tragedies.

“Chairman Michael B. Enzi, ranking member Edward M. Kennedy and the entire Committee need to be commended for the bipartisan approach it has forged to allow Congress to move rapidly on mine safety and rescue issues that must be addressed,” ASSE President-elect Donald S. Jones, Sr., CSP, P.E., said. “We hope this effort can also signal a new era in finding cooperative solutions to the many occupational safety and health issues now before Congress.”

The sweeping reform legislation, labeled the MINER Act, was introduced May 17 by both Senator Enzi (R-WY), Chairman, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Ranking Member of the HELP Committee, and is cosponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA).

“The reforms to the mine rescue program and the improvements to site-specific response plans are in line with what the Task Force on Emergency Response Technology of ASSE’s Mine Practice Specialty believe is necessary,” Jones said. “Likewise, giving liability protection to rescue teams, increasing rescue team training and ensuring team familiarity with each mine, supporting scholarships for more miner education and requiring standards for sealed mines will help save lives.”

Separating NIOSH from the CDC and establishing it as a sub-agency reporting directly to the Secretary of Health and Human Services is also a positive move, according to ASSE. It will improve NIOSH's ability to address mine safety and technology issues and to carry out its singular responsibility to lead this nation's research and education in safety and health, said Jones.

Included in the MINER Act are provisions that would:
  • require each covered mine to develop and continuously update a written emergency response plan;
  • promote use of equipment and technology that is currently commercially available;
  • require emergency response plans to be continuously reviewed and updated and re-certified by MSHA every six months;
  • direct the Secretary of Labor to require wireless two-way communications and an electronic tracking system permitting those on the surface to locate persons trapped underground;
  • require each mine to make available two experienced rescue teams capable of a one-hour response time;
  • establish a competitive grant program for new mine safety technology to be administered by NIOSH;
  • establish an interagency working group to provide a formal means of sharing non-classified technology that would have applicability to mine safety; raise the criminal penalty cap to $250,000 for first offenses and $500,000 for second offenses, as well as raising the maximum civil penalty for flagrant violations to $220,000; and, much more.