Posted: ’06-JAN-06 06:00′ GMT – – Archive

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched an investigation into the deaths of 12 miners at the Sago coal mine in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats are calling for hearings to examine mine safety, as well as the Bush Administration’s enforcement of mine regulations.

In a news release, David G. Dye, Acting Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety, announced that an independent team of MSHA mine safety professionals from through the U.S. will evaluate all aspects of the accident, mine safety, and response.

Meanwhile, Rep. George Miller, D-California, the Senior Democratic Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called on committee Chairman Rep. John Boenher, R-Ohio, immediately to convene hearings into the tragedy. Rep. Major Owens, D-New York, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Workforce Procedure, and Miller accused Congress of abdicating its oversight responsibilities on worker safety issues.

The two men urged that Congress re-review its recent action regarding MSHA. For instance, next year’s MSHA budget has a $4.9 million cut in real-dollar terms while MSHA staffing has been downsized by 170 positions since 2001, according to Miller and Owens.

“We are also concerned that MSHA has injected political considerations into its safety enforcement program,” the lawmakers asserted. Under new procedures, the draft report and conclusion of professional investors regarding a serious or fatal accident can be subject to reconsideration by political appointments in the U.S. Department of Labor, who decide if any action is taken against a mining company.

The lawmakers called on Boenher immediately to convene hearings on the effectiveness of enforcement and inspection processes at MSHA and OSHA under current law and current management.

Tony Oppegard, a former senior MSHA adviser, suggested to the Pittsburg Tribune-Review that MSHA should convene a public hearing to investigate the exploitation at the Sago mine to allow the agency to use subpoenas to compel people involved in the accident to testify. Oppegard said the public hearing would also allow the miners’ families to see the investigation, which are normally conducted behind closed doors.

The U.S. NGO American Rights at Work asserted that the tragedy tells America “just how dangerous the mining industry continues to be.” David Bonoir, a former Democratic Whip for the House, declared, “it should not take explosions and cave-in to focus attention on perilous working conditions, lax regulations, and haphazard enforcement and inspections which permeate the industry.”

In a news release, the NGO declared, “It is no coincidence that the Sago mine produced safety infractions at several times the industry norm, and that it is a non-union mine, where workers did not enjoy the job protection to speak out. Concerns about safety and health risks are one of the most compelling reasons why workers seek unions on the job in the first place.”

Coal industry analyst Ian Synott suggested that fallout from the accident could temporarily hurt recruitment of U.S. coal miners.

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