MSHA gets serious regarding miner discrimination

FEDERAL regulators released data reflecting the increased focus the Mines Safety and Health Administration has been placing on discrimination complaints.

Donna Schmidt

According to MSHA data, it filed 39 requests during the 2012 fiscal year with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission requesting the reinstatement of miners who had been suspended, laid off, discharged or had other adverse discriminatory action.

Looking broader, the agency filed 79 temporary reinstatement requests, or an average of 26 per year, between October 2009 and September 2012.

The total is a significant increase from the annual average of seven filed between October 1993 and September 2009.

MSHA said it submitted 84 total discrimination complaints with the commission during the same fiscal period, versus 28 during the three prior years combined.

“MSHA strongly encourages miners to exercise their rights under the Mine Act and maximize their involvement in monitoring safety and health conditions,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main said.

“In turn, we will vigorously investigate all discrimination complaints.”

If federal officials find in its review of a complaint that it is not brought “frivolously”, it will then request the FMSHRC order an immediate reinstatement.

Miner discrimination regulations are detailed in length under Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, known as the Mine Act.

Under the law, a miner cannot be “discharged, discriminated against or interfered with in the exercise of statutory rights because he or she has engaged in a protected activity, such as filing a complaint alleging a health or safety violation, or refusing to work under unsafe or unhealthy conditions”

Fear of discrimination and retaliation and other related issues were a topic of focus during congressional hearings held following the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April 2010.

Miner and family member statements during the hearings showed some workers hesitated to speak up about existing safety conditions prior to the blast as they feared retaliation by management.

MSHA said testimony collected from UBB employees that was subsequently presented during its investigation supported those claims.

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