Noting that 87% of all U.S. mines operated in 2009 without a single lost time accident, Watzman said, “There should be a clear-eyed assessment of whether fundamental components of the existing law are being properly and fully executed,” before we make sweeping changes in the Mine Act.
Watzman said the NMA looked at the proposed legislation within the framework of the following principles, which the organization used to identify omissions in the proposed legislation that merit attention; provisions that basically align with these principles and that the industry could support with some modifications; and provisions that are counter to these principles:
• Will it improve mine safety and health—the number one priority;
• Does it ensure greater transparency;
• Will it build upon, rather than dismantle, the positive features of existing law;
• Does it avoid additional layers of enforcement already provided for under the law, but not fully used;
• Are proposed penalties commensurate with the severity of violations;
• Will it protect due process; and
• Will it maintain a robust mining industry that maximizes the health and safety of its workforce while meeting the needs of the American people?
Watzman called the committee’s attention to recent findings of the Inspector General that point to problems in the execution of Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) programs and authorities due to half the mine safety inspectors being new to their job and half not receiving mandated or adequate training; other analyses that suggest a lack of correlation between significant and substantial violation rates and injury rates at mines; a regulatory and resource focus on at-risk conditions when more injuries, incidents or near misses are arising from at-risk behavior; and inconsistencies in the application of the nation’s mine safety laws that are impeding regulatory certainty and compliance, as noted in testimony by the assistant secretary of labor for Mine Safety and Health.
He questioned whether we would not “be better served to stress improving implementation rather than imposing more changes on inspectors and operators struggling to attain clarity, consistency and credibility in the application of existing safety laws and regulations?”
While noting concerns shared with the committee regarding certain elements of MSHA authority, including the need to reform the Pattern of Violation system to provide greater transparency and a broader look at mine safety performance, Watzman said, “We do not believe sufficient attention has been given to weaknesses in the execution of MSHA’s existing authority. Absent such an evaluation, we believe H.R. 5633 layers harshly punitive and restrictive provisions over a flawed framework to the detriment of successful safety and health programs.
“We remain ready to work with the committee on actions we should be taking, just as we did before Congress enacted the MINER Act,” said Watzman.