MSHA credits its work to inform miners about safety and health rights, as well as its reinvigorated actions to investigate complaints and take legal action with the help of Labor Department attorneys.
The number of requests for temporary reinstatements the department submitted on behalf of miners who filed discrimination complaints increased from 22 to 71 between the 2007-09 fiscal years period and the period of FY2010-12.
There were also an additional 70 complaints alleging mine safety discrimination in the FY2010-12 period – up from only 39 in FY2007-09.
According to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, a miner cannot be discharged, discriminated against or interfered with in the exercise of statutory rights because he or she has filed a complaint alleging a health or safety violation.
Miners have the right to testify or assist in legal proceedings brought under the Mine Act, or to refuse to work under unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
“All miners have the right to a safe workplace and the right to identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination or retaliation,” MSHA assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.
“Since I arrived at MSHA nearly three years ago, one of my top goals has been to educate miners about those rights and protections and to rigorously enforce them.”
Issues relating to fears of discrimination and retaliation came to light during congressional hearings held in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
Statements from miners and family members of the miners who died indicated that mine employees had been reluctant to speak out about safety conditions in existence prior to the April 2010 explosion, fearing retaliation by management.
MSHA notes that evidence uncovered during its investigation of the disaster also supports those claims.
In June 2011, MSHA released web-based training tools to help miners better understand their rights and responsibilities.
The package included “A Guide to Miners’ Rights and Responsibilities”, an electronic form for filing an anonymous hazard complaint, a discrimination complaint packet and information about black lung benefits and resources.
MSHA has also released a compendium of online videos addressing miners’ concerns about unsafe working conditions, hiring decisions, how to refuse unsafe work, the role of supervisors and the role of miners’ representatives who travel with federal inspectors.
An MSHA guide for miners’ representatives explaining their rights under the Mine Act is slated for completion this fall.
The publication will include information on inspections and investigations, filing a hazardous condition complaint, accessing information using MSHA’s data retrieval system and becoming a miners’ representative.