On Wednesday the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. House of Representatives voted 30-17 to approve the most significant changes to laws governing OSHA and MSHA since the creation of the agencies in 1970.

The bill would increase penalties for serious mine safety violations, make it easier for the government to shut down problem mines and offer more protection for whistle-blowers. Mines shut down for a pattern of violations would have to keep paying workers during the closure.

A vote in the full House is expected before year's end. Lawmakers in both chambers have said they want a mine safety bill passed by the end of the year.

Hmmm… healthcare reform, banking reform, OSHA and MSHA reform all in the same year?

Changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act respond to recent fatal explosions at refineries, power plants and food processing plants.

The bill would increase civil and criminal penalties for all private employers, strengthen whistle-blower laws and require businesses to fix major violations immediately, even if the employer disagrees and decides to mount a legal challenge.

The Senate has yet to take up its own version of the bill; working in ongoing to gain some bipartisan support.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today issued the following statement on the passage of the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010:

“The legislation passed today by the House Education and Labor Committee represents an important step forward in strengthening safety laws for our nation’s miners. This bill will compel operators who don’t take the safety and health of miners seriously to do so. In addition, by also strengthening the OSH Act, this bill will improve safety and health for all workers. Every worker deserves to come home safe at the end of a shift.

“There is a tremendous need for swift action on this legislation. I can think of no better way to honor the memory of Senator Robert C. Byrd and all of those workers who have died tragically on the job than to quickly pass this legislation. I hope the full House will take up this bill before the August recess.”

Last-minute changes to the House measure exempted all mines except underground coal mines and about 10 other underground mines that produce flammable gases.

Still, GOP lawmakers are not happy campers today. They complain that the measure goes too far by overhauling other job safety laws affecting nearly every private business in the country.

"Changes wholly unrelated to miner safety will drive up costs and litigation for job creators at a time when our country can least afford it," said Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the committee's top Republican.

“Adding workplace safety laws to a bill intended to address mine safety "is not the right approach, especially at a time when our nation needs jobs," said Keith Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers.