After Two Years of Sorrow, A Reflection and a Promise

Filed in Safety, Secretary Solis by on April 5, 2012 5 Comments

Today marks the second anniversary of the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in nearly four decades, as well as the single most heartbreaking day of my tenure as U.S. Secretary of Labor. The day after the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, I went to the site and sat vigil with the family members and loved ones of the miners who were trapped underground. We prayed for a miracle that never came. I will never forget the 29 men who perished in an explosion that ripped through the chambers of the mine, the two miners who were seriously injured, or their loved ones.

Since then, MSHA has introduced tough new practices to counteract the type of misdeeds that were so prevalent at Upper Big Branch under Massey Energy. Joe Main, my assistant secretary of labor for MSHA, testified to Congress last week detailing the steps the agency is taking to make sure that we never again see such a senseless loss of life among miners. Our impact inspection program, which targets mines with chronic compliance problems, is an important new tool in our enforcement efforts. Many of the surprise inspections conducted under this program have forced mine operators to shut down production until they have addressed hazards. 

Joe and his team are also making sure that we hold mine operators more accountable. A new rule to be published April 6 and effective in August, requires underground coal mine operators to examine their mines more thoroughly by finding and fixing common violations, including some of those that were cited in the investigation of the UBB mine disaster.  

We have more to do. We cannot allow mine operators to hide hazards from inspectors, which was a major problem at many Massey mines. We need stronger criminal penalties for rogue operators who skirt the law, enhanced whistleblower protections so that miners can speak out about safety, and a host of other reforms.

Mines across the country operate productively every day while adhering to sound health and safety programs. There is never an excuse for cutting corners on worker protection. Employers should never put profits over people.  If every mine operator meets its legal obligation to ensure the safety and health of its workers, we can prevent another tragedy like Upper Big Branch from ever happening again.

On this sad occasion, I commit to ensuring the full human dignity of every coal miner by pursuing violators with the full force of the law.  And I vow that those miners and families who suffered so grievously two years ago – and every day since – will never be far from my thoughts.

For more information, watch MSHA Assistant Secretary Joseph Main’s video message:

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Comments (5)

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  1. “We have more to do. We cannot allow mine operators to hide hazards from inspectors, which was a major problem at many Massey mines”This is sure. I agree whit the information shared in this post.

  2. I am not really sure if greatest practices have emerged around points like that, but I am certain that your great work is clearly identified. I had been wondering should you offer any subscription to your RSS feeds as I will be very interested and may?t discover any hyperlink to subscribe here.

  3. Esin says:

    The government should be very strict on the policies related to mines. It all starts from there.

  4. Back to the Constitution says:

    Print on paper does absolutely nothing to prevent tragedies. They happen despite the best of intentions. However, what is truly tragic, are the perceptions: 1) that regulation is law–it is not, because it is not created by the legislative process; 2) that regulation actually does anything for the person or group of persons described as beneficiaries of regulation. In actual fact, ALL regulation does is create an excuse for an (unconstitutional) administrative agency to fine a business for something deemed a violation. That’s the big con, folks. If, for instance, a miner is injured, or a person suffers injury while working and a bully organization like OSHA or MSHA steps in, the only thing that the agency does is collect money from the employer. That’s it. The person and his/her family is still responsible for pursuing damages in court. In otherwords, agencies create rules simply to be able to get what essentially are damages to perpetuate themselves without having to prevail in a negligence action against the employer in court. That’s ridiculous.
    It really is time for people, and particularly for business owners, to band together and adopt the mantra, “I will not comply”. Administrators cannot wield lawmaking authority AT ALL, according to either the U.S. Consitution or the constitutions of the states. Legislative authority is vested only in legislatures. OSHA possesses no legitimate authority to compel anyone to do anything.
    The only reason that businesses have bowed to regulator-bullies during the past 100 years is the existence of a system built piece-by-piece (principally by allowing Supreme Court justices to amend the Constitution by substituting interpretations for the words in the Constitution), in which We the People no longer earn money of real, intrinsic value as payment for our exertions. Instead, we earn dollars, which now exist primarily in binary form. We’re even contemplating a transformation into a cashless society, which is the final step to complete the separation of individuals from control of their financial destinies, and subjecting our finances to supervisory oversight and social engineering. Therefore, although it is extremely uncomfortable to even contemplate, we all MUST transform our earnings into things of real value and possess them. We need to take steps to be able to disengage from state-administered utilities and to grow food for our families. We must exercise our Natural Right to keep and bear arms (the Bill of Rights is a list of promises that no authority of government–legislative (Congress), executive (President), or Judicial (the Courts)–may ever be used to infringe upon or interfere with ANY natural right). We must form agreements with friends and neighbors, expand those agreements to other neighborhoods, and to our coworkers and employers, etc. to resist and oppose regulator activity. Finally, we must reconnect with the thinking of the Founding Fathers. Freedom is worth the loss of all worldly possessions.
    No agency rule ever is submitted to or passed by Congress or a state legislature and therefore possesses NO authority. Only an act passed by a legislature and enacted by the signature of the President or a governor is law. I WILL NOT COMPLY.

  5. medula says:

    I am not really sure if greatest practices have emerged around points like that, but I am certain that your great work is clearly identified

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