Aggregates work force safety and health is a primary concern for the aggregates industry and the industry’s commitment is evidenced by an ever-improving record of reducing injury incidence rates. Ensuring worker safety and health is not just good business; it is the right thing to do. While even one fatality is unacceptable, the aggregates industry has made great strides in ensuring the safety and health of its employees with fewer injuries and illnesses when compared to other mining sectors.
Typically, in the wake of disasters in the underground coal sector, a flurry of bills is introduced with the stated goal of enhancing mine safety and health. This certainly happened in 2006 after the Sago disaster, which led to the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act), which raised penalty rates, and added a rule for notification within 15 minutes of certain emergencies. In 2010, after the Upper Big Branch disaster, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would have boosted penalty rates, re-defined a “Significant & Substantial” evaluation of conditions, rendered more operator employees liable to MSHA penalties, and increased agency subpoena authority, among other things. NSSGA objected because the legislation had been spawned by a disaster in the coal sector, whose safety profile is substantially different than that of the aggregates sector. Further, NSSGA believed that most provisions missed the mark on what could actually improve the Mine Act on behalf of safety. Also, NSSGA was pleased that the committee of jurisdiction decided before the roll call vote that aggregates did not belong in the legislation.
At the beginning of the 112th Congress, NSSGA convened a task force of representatives of both the Safety & Health Committee and the Government Affairs Committee that developed recommendations for positive reforms of the Mine Safety Act if a favorable political environment occurred. A NSSGA representative testified at a House Labor Committee hearing to discuss possible reforms of the Act on the recommendations developed by NSSGA’s joint task force.
NSSGA will continue to oppose legislation that imposes additional safety regulations on an already highly regulated industry that has had a steadily improving safety record, and proactively educate new members of Congress on the difference between aggregates mining and other mining sectors.
Demonstrating compliance with MSHA standards is painstaking and necessitates much discretionary decision-making in determining how to comply. While MSHA labors under an out-dated act (35 years old), the reality is that the political climate is not yet amenable to substantive statutory change that can improve the Mine Act’s approach to workplace safety in the aggregates sector. However, NSSGA plans – when the opportunity does arise – to advocate for the Act distinguishing more clearly between aggregates and coal, granting MSHA authority needed both for acknowledging the role of behavior in both safety and compliance, and for using more inspector discretion for properly evaluating conditions, potential hazards and appropriate penalties for alleged non-compliance.
Updated: November 2012