The program information bulletins, or PIBs, were developed based on testimony heard in May during a US House Education and Labor Committee hearing in southern West Virginia and recent Senate hearings.
Some of those statements, according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, were from family members of workers who died in the Upper Big Branch explosion in April, who indicated the miners had expressed concerns over safety conditions prior to the blast but feared retaliation by management.
“Section 103(g)(1) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 provides that a miner or miners’ representative has the right to obtain an immediate MSHA inspection if there are reasonable grounds to believe that an imminent danger, a violation of the Mine Act or a violation of a mandatory safety or health standard exists,” the agency said.
“The agency will conduct a special inspection to determine if a violation or danger exists, issue a citation or order as appropriate, and take all reasonable steps to maintain and assure the confidentiality of the complainant.”
MSHA maintains a toll-free anonymous hotline – 800-746-1553 – for any miner to report hazardous conditions at their operation.
Individuals may also report the issues to their nearest federal district office or online via its website.
“Miners have a right to identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination,” assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.
“The more people participate actively in mine safety, the better.”
Under Section 105(c) of the Mine Act, individuals are prohibited from ‘discriminating against miners; applicants for employment and representatives of miners for exercising statutory rights, especially concerning safety or health activities such as identifying hazards; requesting MSHA inspections; or refusing to engage in unsafe work’.
“MSHA will vigorously investigate all discrimination complaints against miners,” Main said.
“We will not hesitate to seek more substantial civil penalties against mine operators who repeatedly discriminate against miners as a deterrent to future such illegal acts.”
MSHA said the most common discrimination forms protected by the Mine Act are discharge, suspension, loss of pay, demotion, changes in pay and changes in work hours. Others include reduced benefits, vacation, bonuses, overtime or pay rates.
The Act also protects miners against subtle interference methods such as intimidation or threats of reprisal.
MSHA recently revised its A Guide to Miners’ Rights and Responsibilities under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 publication.
It is available via the MSHA web site, along with a miners’ rights tri-fold brochure and pocket card and an online complaint form and other associated forms for discrimination complaints.
Since January 2009 the agency has received 3,951 hazard condition complaints and a total of 289 discrimination complaints.