Each December, our nation marks National Miners Day to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of America’s miners.
At the Mine Safety and Health Administration, countless employees are themselves former miners or, like me, raised in mining families. We know what Congress meant when it declared that the miner is the industry’s most precious resource.
There are thousands of miners working in over 13,000 mines in the United States and they are an invaluable part of our country’s workforce. In fact, miners are responsible for supplying the raw materials we depend on for so many basic needs. Hard-working miners help supply cement, copper, sand and gravel for the construction and transportation industries; coal needed to make steel to build; and the many metals without which our computers, phones and cars would not exist.
In addition to expressing gratitude for miners, we must appreciate and honor the memories of miners whose lives were taken in accidents and mine disasters such as Monongah, Sunshine and Robena. We must also remember the thousands of miners who suffered and died too young because of preventable occupational illnesses such as Black Lung disease and silicosis.
This year, we launched efforts to better protect miners from immediate dangers at work and the longer-term effects of health hazards such as exposure to silica and coal dust. Health hazards like these are hard to identify, and occupational illnesses develop over time based on a miner’s level of exposure.
Because miners’ health and safety must always be the top priority, we created our “Miner Health Matters” campaign to inform and educate all miners of their rights to report health hazards and the importance of regular health evaluations. MSHA’s Miner Health Matters effort also includes our work on a proposed rule to better protect all miners from exposure to respirable crystalline silica, a silica enforcement initiative, and reforms to our Part 90 program for coal miners who have already developed pneumoconiosis and have rights to work in a healthier environment. And our Take Time, Save Lives campaign provides critical safety information.
We also recently launched a Miner Safety and Health app – available on both Android and iPhone devices – that puts safety, health and miners’ rights information directly in the hands of miners. These efforts reflect our commitment to our mission and to doing all we can to help protect miners.
On National Miners Day, join me in thanking these vital workers and their families for their commitment to taking on the difficult jobs needed to serve our nation’s needs.
Chris Williamson is Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. Follow MSHA on Twitter at @MSHA_DOL.