Mine safety legislation across the States is poised to get a new set of teeth.
Democrats are prepared to reveal the framework of a new bill to tighten mine safety and increase penalties for mines with a record of repeated safety violations after U.S. lawmakers reconvene on July 9.
The bill follows the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in April when 29 miners were killed after an explosion at the West Virginia coal mine. The accident was the worst mining tragedy in the U.S. in four decades. The exact cause of the disaster is unknown, but the mine had a poor safety record and was cited for a number of safety infractions in the previous month. Last year, the mine was fined nearly $400,000 for serious safety violations relating mainly to ventilation and equipment, as well as poor execution of its safety plan.
The Upper Big Branch disaster is not the only recent coal mining catastrophe in West Virginia. Only four years ago, 13 miners were trapped underground for two days following an explosion at the Sago coal mine. Only one miner survived. Multiple state and federal investigations failed to reveal the exact cause of the explosion, but—as with Upper Big Branch—the mine had a poor safety record and was cited for 208 violations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the previous year.
With any luck, the forthcoming legislation will make mining tragedies a thing of the past by shutting the doors of mines that show a poor track record of safety compliance. It is also expected the bill will boost protection for whistleblowers who identify serious safety risks.
Democrats hope to have the bill passed by the end of the year and, in light of April’s tragedy—and in spite of some early criticisms by Republicans—it is unlikely the bill will receive much opposition. As a result, now is the time for mining companies across the U.S. to implement comprehensive, safety management systems to ensure ongoing compliance with safety requirements, avoid costs associated with safety violations and—most importantly—save lives.