Coal Tattoo

Reactions to Joe Main confirmation at MSHA

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joe-main-008a.jpgSome reactions coming in today to last evening’s U.S. Senate vote to confirm former United Mine Workers of America safety and health director Joe Main as assistant secretary of labor in charge of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Main’s old boss, UMWA President Cecil Roberts issued this statement:

We congratulate Joe Main on the U.S. Senate’s unanimous confirmation of him last night as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. We sincerely believe that Joe’s long experience as an advocate for miners’ health and safety on the job will bring a refreshing change to an agency that for too long has favored production over strong enforcement of workplace safety and health in America’s mines.

The UMWA will continue to be the primary advocate for miners’ health and safety. We understand that Joe has many challenges confronting him as he takes the helm, not least of which will be suspicion and confrontation from mine operators who are not used to vigorous enforcement of the law.

Nothing can replace careful attention to strong safety and health practices in the workplace by both miners and management every day on the job to ensure that miners’ lives and limbs are not put at risk. But with such strong and outspoken advocates of workplace health and safety as Joe Main, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and President Obama on the side of working miners, we believe that those operators who in the past have chosen to put increased production ahead of miners’ health and safety will no longer be allowed to get away with it.

That is what miners have a right to expect from government watchdog agencies like MSHA. We will be working to make sure that is what they get from MSHA.

Congressman George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said:

I congratulate Joe Main’s unanimous Senate confirmation as the next head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.  Main will be a tireless advocate for the health and safety of America’s miners and will bring a needed jumpstart to an agency that suffered from years of neglect. I look forward to working with him to ensure that our nation’s miners return home to their loved ones safely at the end of each shift.

Interestingly, the National Mining Associated issued a statement today outlining a speech that their top safety official, Bruce Watzman, delivered at an industry meeting in Pittsburgh. Here’s what the statement said:

 Pittsburgh, Pa. – A mining safety professional today highlighted new federal data underscoring the improved safety performance achieved thus far this year by the nation’s mines.

“U.S. mining’s annual safety record to date surpasses its record for all previous years at this point,” said Bruce Watzman, senior vice president for regulatory affairs at the National Mining Association (NMA). “Our record for lost time accidents underscores the strong commitment coal and mineral mining companies have made to improving mine safety,” he said.

Speaking at the 2009 joint meeting of the Pittsburgh Coal Mining Institute and Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, Watzman said data collected through the third quarter by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show total U.S. mining fatalities are fewer than at the comparable period in 2008, the industry’s record year for mine safety.

Moreover, said Watzman, coal mining’s safety record to date is on pace to make 2009 the third consecutive year of steadily declining fatalities in the nation’s coal mines. Through 2008, coal mining’s fatality rate had fallen 40 percent from the 2000 level.

“U.S. mining has returned to our trend of steadily improving safety performance,” said Watzman. “We won’t be content until we achieve our ultimate goal of zero fatalities.”

For all U.S. mining, including coal, minerals and metals, federal data show that since 2002 the rate of fatal injuries has declined by 13 percent and the rate of non-fatal injuries has declined by 26 percent.

Watzman noted the abundance and affordability of coal ensures it will be an important, even vital, part of the nation’s energy mix for decades to come. That is especially good news for Pennsylvania, he said. The commonwealth ranks fourth in the nation in coal production, valued at $2.5 billion in 2008. More than 21,000 Pennsylvanians are employed directly by coal mining, with wages that are 30 percent higher than the average wage for all industries in the state.