The Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 (H.R. 5663) would provide stronger tools to ensure mine operators with troubling safety records improve safety, empower workers to speak up about safety concerns and give the Department of Labor the tools it needs to ensure all workers go home safely at the end of the day, according to U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The bill would revamp the criteria for Pattern of Violations (POV) sanctions to ensure dangerous mine operations fix chronic problems. MSHA would have authority to close down the mine once a POV status is triggered, and in order to reopen, mine operators have to comply with a remediation plan and be subject to more mine inspections and additional reporting requirements.

Among other provisions, the reforms outlined include:
•    Criteria for ‘pattern of violations’ sanctions would be revamped to ensure the nation’s most dangerous mine operations improve safety dramatically.
•    Maximum criminal and civil penalties would be increased and operators would be required to pay penalties in a timely manner.
•    MSHA would be given the authority to subpoena documents and testimony. The agency could seek a court order to close a mine when there is a continuing threat to the health and safety of miners. MSHA could require more training of miners in unsafe mines.
•    Protections for workers who speak out about unsafe conditions would be strengthened and would guarantee miners wouldn’t lose pay for safety-related closures. The bill would provide underground coal miners with protections from dismissal unless the employer has just cause. In addition, miners would receive protections allowing them to speak freely during investigations.  
•    Increased rock dusting would be required to prevent coal dust explosions. Pre-shift reviews of hazards and violations in the mine must be communicated to incoming miners to ensure they are not caught unaware. Protocols for continuous atmospheric monitoring for methane and carbon monoxide will be developed by NIOSH and adopted by MSHA through regulations.
•    The legislative outline provides for an independent investigation of the most serious accidents. It would require mine personnel are well qualified, and ensure inspections are comprehensive and well targeted.
•    To ensure all workplaces have basic protections, whistleblower protections would be strengthened, criminal and civil penalties would be increased, and hazard abatement would be sped up. In addition, victims of accidents and their family members would be provided greater rights during investigations and enforcement actions.