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American Society Of Safety Engineers Comment On Mine Safety Legislation, Urge Overall Risks Be Taken Into Account

Posted in on Mon, Sep 24, 2007

Des Plaines, IL (September 24, 2007) — In a letter to Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor George Miller, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Michael W. Thompson, CSP, offered comments on mining safety reform legislation, HR 2768 and HR 2769, now under consideration by the Committee.

“Like all Americans, our member mine safety professionals are deeply troubled by any death in a mine. They go to work each day to do all they can to prevent these tragedies. Like you and the Committee members, they want to make sure all that can be done to prevent the loss of life and injuries in this nation’s mines is accomplished,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson said these comments reflect directly the experience and expertise of leading safety professionals in the mine industry who are members of 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.

“Most of what is proposed in the bills will help prevent loss of life and injuries,” Thompson said. “However, some provisions are not realistic given the current capabilities of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (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. A few provisions, though not directly safety issues, challenge the due process rights of mine owners and may be unnecessarily overbearing for the great majority of mines that work safely.”

Thompson noted in the letter that ASSE mine safety professional members strongly believe, however, that this legislation – as does the overall mine safety debate – misses a necessary approach to achieving safer mines. As our members see it, Thompson said, each time a mine disaster occurs, another serious mine safety problem comes to light that turns out to have been a known significant risk within the mining community.

“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 worksite,” Thompson said. “When a safety professional enters a worksite, 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. An industry-wide safety analysis could very well result in an understanding for the need for Congress to re-open the Mine Act to readjust the direction and scope of mine regulation so that the resources of MSHA could focus more directly on the elements of the industry and the risks that truly represent a clear and present danger to miners.”

In his letter Thompson discussed several issues including authority of inspectors; transition to a new generation of inspectors; a miner ombudsman; the pattern of violations; notification of abatement; failure to timely pay penalty assessments; penalties; a federal licensing advisory committee; rescue, recovery and incident investigation authority; respirable dust standards; air contaminants; asbestos; and hazard communication.

In urging Congress to consider including supplemental emergency response plans, Thompson noted, “ASSE understands the urgency with which the provisions aimed at improving the chance that miners will survive a mine accident have been included in this bill. Each provision is worthy of further action, as each has the potential to save lives. However, we urge you to amend the bill to make their implementation dependent on an industry-wide risk analysis to be conducted under the direction of NIOSH before placing these provisions into law. 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.”

For a full copy of the letter please go to Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the largest and oldest professional safety organization and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 31,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor and education.

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