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Committee Statements

Walberg Statement: Hearing on "Modernizing Mine Safety"

As prepared for delivery.

Good morning, and welcome to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. This is our second opportunity in the 112th Congress to examine the safety of America’s miners. The loss of life last month in an Idaho silver mine, as well as the mining tragedy at Upper Big Branch, are reminders of the need to remain vigilant in our efforts to promote mine safety. 

Over the last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has proposed a number of changes to mine safety enforcement. Changes include reestablishing preshift examinations for safety and health violations and a new emergency rock dusting standard. The administration has also proposed significant changes to the regulations that govern when a mine is deemed to be in a “pattern of violations.”

While it has often failed to exercise all the enforcement tools at its disposal, MSHA is to be commended for taking action. In fact, just last month the administration – for the first time in its 40 year history – placed two mines in “pattern of violations” status. Additionally, due to the work of the committee and dedicated journalists, the public is finally able to take a look at internal audits that reveal more information about MSHA’s enforcement procedures.

There are still a number of questions surrounding MSHA’s recent proposals, and we hope to get some answers today. Most importantly, we want to determine whether these changes will produce the safety results we hope to achieve. That is why the testimony from today’s witnesses is so important. Our witnesses have more than 100 years of combined mine safety experience, and their professional expertise and personal knowledge will help inform Congress about the current state of mine safety enforcement, whether MSHA – in their opinion – is on the right track, and what other tools are needed to safeguard the health and well-being of miners.

We also plan to review whether there are examples of federal laws or regulations hindering proactive efforts on the jobsite that may lead to better safety conditions. Washington cannot have all the answers and it should not stand in the way of an employer’s effort to go above and beyond the law in providing a safe work environment. Punishment is important, but putting punishment before prevention is not in the best interest of America’s workers. As Mr. Roberts has noted in the past, most of the mining industry does the right thing. Let’s ensure federal policies hold bad actors accountable, and partner with the good actors on behalf of worker safety.

An example of this kind of collaborative effort is the successful development and deployment of coal dust explosibility meters, or CDEM. The device, developed by the federal National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, takes real time samples of rock dust to help determine its combustibility. Previously, MSHA laboratories could take weeks to examine a rock dust sample. Now miners have a useful tool on site that has immediately enhanced safety.

Advancing strong mine safety protections is a goal that we all share and one we must all work to achieve. Miners work under extreme conditions to provide the natural resources our nation needs, and they deserve our support. Policy makers, enforcement officials, and mine operators each play an important role in helping to ensure miners go home to their families at the end of their shift. As I noted at our last mine safety hearing, worker safety is best advanced when we work together, and I know we are capable of doing so.


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