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Mine Safety & Health Act Explained

Because the mining industry creates dangerous working conditions, both new miners and current miners are required by OSHA to complete specialized safety training to instruct them on how to recognize health and safety hazards, minimize accidents and injuries, and protect themselves in hazardous and emergency situations. Learn more about our online MSHA Part 46 training courses and register today.

Mines can be dangerous workplaces for employees; consequently, federal law holds mine operators responsible for their employees' health and safety. The following are important matters to note about U.S. miner's labor law.

Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977

Administered by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Act affects miners and mine operators who work on mine property within the United States. The Act defines a miner as, "any individual working in coal or other mine" and a mine operator as "any owner, lessee, or other person who operates controls, or supervises a coal or other mine or any independent contractor performing service or construction at such mine".

MSHA enforces requirements at over 13,000 mines in the United States, and the agency also offers mine training and investigates mining accidents. Under the Act, MSHA must inspect all mines in the United States each year to ensure miners have a healthy a safe working environment. MSHA establishes standards for unhealthy and hazardous conditions and requires the immediate notification of minor accidents, injuries, and illnesses and for the opening and closing of a mine. Lastly, it requires training programs that fulfill the requirements of the Mine Act and equipment approval for gassy underground mines.

Employee rights

Due to mining's dangerous nature, the government created the Act to give miners provisions to follow in order to save as many lives as possible. Under the Act miners have the right to a representatives; with the belief a serious safety or health hazard exists, to request an inspection and to accompany federal inspections; to receive safety and health training; to be paid when a mine might be closed for a withdrawal order; to be protected against discrimination; and to participate in legal proceedings and enforcements. Miners also have the right to patriciate in a Part 46 or Part 48 Training plan, a roof control plan, a mine ventilation plan, a mine emergency evacuation and firefighting instruction program, and an emergency response plan.

Inspections

In addition to requiring MSHA to inspect all U.S. mines each year and underground mines four times a year, the Act mandates several more requirements, including that surface mine operations should be inspected twice a year. MSHA inspectors are not allowed disclose when he or she will visit a mine and may enter a mine at any time without a warrant.

The Act gives MSHA the right to conduct more inspections throughout the year to check for a safe and healthy work environment. Cited violations are subjected to civil penalties and must be corrected within MSHA inspector's established time frames. Mine operates have the right to attend pre- and post-inspection conferences, as well as to accompany MSHA during the inspection.

Response plans provisions

All emergency response plans must be continuously updated and re-approved by MSHA every six months. The Act also includes several post-accident requirements, which are:

  • Communications via wireless communicators
  • An electronic tracking system
  • Each miner or section must have two self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs) available
  • SCSRs must be installed at 30 minute intervals of escape ways
  • Refuge alternatives must be available and capable of sustaining miner for 96 hours
  • Flame-resistant directional lifelines in escape ways must be available
  • All miners should be trained in all evacuation procedures
  • Quarterly training and drills in: physically locating the stored SCSRs and refuge alternatives; physically locating and practice using the continuous directional lifelines or equivalent devices and tethers; donning and transferring SCSRs; practicing a realistic escape way drill; reviewing mine and escapeway maps; locating escapeways, exits, routes of travel to the surface, abandoned areas, and refuge alternatives; reviewing the procedures for deploying refuge alternatives and components; and reviewing the procedures for use of the refuge alternatives and components.

For more information on response plans, visit the Safety and Health Standards: Mine Safety and Health listed on OSHA's website.

The Many Aspects of Mine Labor Laws

The mine act covers many different aspects of the mining industry, it:

  • Sets mandatory safety and health standards
  • Mandates miners' training requirements, which are detailed above
  • Prescribes penalties for violations, which are detailed below
  • Enables inspectors to close dangerous mines
  • Addressing roof fall hazards, flammable and explosive gas hazards, fire hazards, electricity hazards, equipment rollover hazards, maintenance hazards, airborne contaminant hazards, noise hazards, respirable dust hazards

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) amended the 1977 mine act in 2006, which President George W. Bush signed into law and was the most significant update to mine legislation in over 30 years. The update requires underground mine operators to improve accident preparedness. Now, mining companies must establish emergency plans for each mine they operate.

After the 2006 amendment, the following mine requirements were implemented:

  • Emergency response plans should be updated continuously
  • These updated plans should be approved and re-certified by MSHA every six months
  • Use commercially available equipment and technology
  • Two-way, wireless communications and electronic tracking systems are required by the Secretary of Labor
  • Two rescues teams should always be able to respond within a half an hour
  • Within 15 minutes of a potentially fatal injury, the mine must report the indecent or be subjected to a civil penalty of $5,000 to $60,000
  • Abandoned mine areas must have a MSHA established seal established
  • MSHA may establish a Technical Study Panel on the use of air underground coal mines and fire retardant material in belts.
  • Raise the criminal penalty cap to $250,000 for first offensives and $500,000 for second offensives
  • Establish $220,000 as the maximum civil penalty for flagrant violations
  • Grants MSHA the power to request an injunction if mine has refused to pay a final order MSHA penalty
  • Establish training grants

Further Reading

You can learn more about the 2006 MINER act on the U.S. Department of Labor MSHA page. More information about interagency collaboration and oversight among MSHA, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can be found in the 1979 agreement document.

Recent mining statistics, respirable dust rule implementation and hazardous condition reporting guidelines can also be found on MSHA's main page. Hazardous conditions at a mine can be reported to MSHA anonymously by calling 1-800-746-1553 or submitting an online form.