Inconsistent laws hinder substance abuse crackdown

PATCHWORK state laws have thwarted efforts by coal companies to fight drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, the National Mining Association said as it filed its comments on proposed new rules on substance abuse with the MSHA.

Angie Tomlinson

The NMA made its response to the Mine Safety and Health Administration last week: The MSHA is currently determining the need for regulations on drug and alcohol use by miners.


The NMA said despite prevention efforts by companies and mine operators, workers were encountering increased safety and health risks from the escalating use of illegal substances ¬- and abuse of legal substances - in the workplace.


The association said while its members had tried to address the problem, only sporadic results had arisen because of inconsistent state laws and regulatory requirements as well as the “limitations contained in collective bargaining agreements”


Companies are often forced to construct different programs across operations depending on the jurisdiction covering each individual minesite.


“Of equal concern, the historic system in the coal sector for the issuance of state certification papers has thwarted efforts to remove from the industry those who have violated a company’s drug and alcohol policy,” NMA said.


“This system should be reviewed to see if an industry-wide system could be developed to remove from the industry those who abuse legal or illegal substances.”


The association said it wanted a transparent and enforceable regulatory approach, but said the development and implementation of this “may well prove to be difficult”


MSHA office of public affairs agent Suzy Bohnert told International Longwall News in October that she was unsure whether regulations would be implemented, but hoped submissions and information gathered at seven public gatherings throughout the US would help decide if and what should be implemented.


The main reasoning behind the effort, according to MSHA, was to develop a routine protocol for accident investigations to determine if alcohol or drugs were a factor in an incident. Currently no such procedures are in place, so many such instances may go unreported and are not uncovered during the agency's accident examinations.