ASSE Encourages Miller to Take Overall Mine Safety Risks Into Account

In a letter to Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President, Michael Thompson urged Congress to focus on establishing an overall approach to assess mine safety problems within the industry, and not offer specific changes each time a mine disaster occurs.

Thompson noted in the letter that members of the ASSE's Mine Practice Specialty – one of 13 practice specialties organized to help advance common principles of safety, health and environmental management to protect workers – strongly believe that mine safety reform legislation H.R. 2768 and H.R. 2769, which currently is under consideration by the committee and is expected to be marked up by October, misses the mark to help create safer mines.

“We urge the committee to also look beyond specific fixes to establishing an overall approach to assessing safety and health risks across the mining industry that would be similar to the way a safety professional approaches a troubled work site," Thompson said. "When a safety professional enters a work site, professional training dictates that the first task is to make an assessment of the overall safety and health risks. By developing risk-based priorities, they are able to make the most effective use of resources to address the issues that most directly put workers in peril.”

H.R. 2768, the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (S-MINER) of 2007 and H.R. 2769, the Miner Health Enhancement Act of 2007, were introduced by Miller during the summer. The new bills would supplement many of the requirements listed in the current Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, which was passed into law last year.

Thompson: Bill Provisions Not “Realistic”

Thompson stated that many of the provisions in the bills “are not realistic given the current capabilities of MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and may take away from the ability of these agencies to advance safety in realistic ways.”

One of the proposed recommendations made by ASSE members involves NIOSH convening a stakeholder symposium with the specific goal of conducting a mine safety risk analysis for the mine industry that would identify the most dangerous risks. Such a symposium also would establish a hierarchical ranking of the severity of those risks, so that the focus of mine owners, the resources of MSHA and NIOSH and the actions of Congress can be targeted to the most dangerous risks first, Thompson said.

Issues including transitioning to a new generation of inspectors, the creation of a miner ombudsman and addressing the failure to timely pay penalty assessments also were discussed in the letter.

Thompson called for an industry-wide risk analysis to be conducted by NIOSH and asked that the analysis be used as a measure to determine if each provision is worthy of further action.

“Our fear is that all these activities, if required in the time frames indicated, will overwhelm even the best efforts of NIOSH and MSHA to bring them about.,” Thompson said. “Such an analysis would create the foundation for what safety and health professionals would hope could be the establishment of a risk-based approach to improving those key issues that have proven over the past 20 months to expose underground miners to the greatest peril."

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