Workers Memorial Day: Unions Focus on Coal Mining

April 28, 2006
As occupational safety and health stakeholders around the world pause to remember those who have lost their lives on the job, the AFL-CIO and the United Mine Workers of America are marking Workers Memorial Day by focusing on the plight of one occupational group in particular: coal miners.

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, co-hosted a forum that discussed ways to prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the coal mining industry. Coinciding with the forum was a photo exhibit that combined photojournalist Earl Dotter's present-day look at health and safety issues in coal mining with Russell W. Lee's 1946 documentary photography on the hardships of coal communities.

"This is the perfect time to focus on what's been going on in coal mining as fatalities have continued since last January," said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO's director of safety and health.

The coal mining death toll for this year 26 already has surpassed the 22 coal mining fatalities in all of 2005, according to MSHA.

Roberts referred back to a time before the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 was implemented when coal operators placed more importance on the safety of the mules they used to help transport the coal than on the workers themselves. The belief then, according to Roberts, was that operators "could hire another miner, but they can't afford to buy another mule."

Roberts asserted that because of the Bush administration's fervor for deregulation, 17 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) rules, "including measures on mine rescue teams and emergency oxygen," have been scrapped.

"They have put coal miners back in the canary cages," Roberts said. "We are seeing them expire due to lack of necessary safety and health resources."

In conjunction with Workers Memorial Day, the union also released its annual "Deaths on the Job" Report. (See "AFL-CIO: Deaths on the Job Show Increase of Workplace Fatalities.")

OSHA: Today is a Day to Remember

The United States observed the first Workers Memorial Day in 1989, with April 28 chosen as the date because it marks the anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Workers Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to those who have perished on the job and a day for safety and health stakeholders to recommit themselves to the mission of preventing all workplace fatalities in the future.

New OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. commemorated Workers Memorial Day by emphasizing the agency's renewed commitment to help create and sustain safe and healthy work environments.

"Workers Memorial Day is a day to remember those who lost their lives while working on the job," Foulke said. "OSHA has done much to improve safety and health in the United States. We remain committed to focusing our resources where they will have the most impact in assuring that every working woman and man returns home safe and healthy every day."

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