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Mine Safety & Health Act Explained

Written by Staff Writer

Mine Safety & Health Act (MSHA)

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 thousands of 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 and 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:

  • Representation
  • Request a safety or health hazard inspection and accompany federal inspections
  • Receive safety and health training
  • Be paid when a mine might be closed for a withdrawal order
  • Be protected against discrimination
  • Participate in legal proceedings and enforcement

Miners also have the right to participate 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.


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 to disclose when they 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 subject to civil penalties and must be corrected within the MSHA inspector's established time frames. Mine operators have the right to attend pre- and post-inspection conferences, as well as to accompany MSHA during the inspection.

Response Plans and 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 escapeways
  • Refuge alternatives must be available and capable of sustaining miners for 96 hours
  • Flame-resistant directional lifelines in escapeways 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 escapeway 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
    • Reviewing the procedures for use of the refuge alternatives and components

MSHA offers a helpful checklist to assist employers in developing a compliant Emergency Response Plan as required by the MINER Act. The current version of the Emergency Mine Evacuation Rule can be found here.

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
  • Addresses roof fall hazards, flammable and explosive gas hazards, fire hazards, electricity hazards, equipment rollover hazards, maintenance hazards, airborne contaminant hazards, noise hazards and respirable dust hazards

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response

The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act amended the 1977 Mine Act in 2006, which President George W. Bush signed into law. It was the most significant update to mine legislation in over 30 years. The update required 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 experienced rescue teams capable of a response time of one hour must be available for each mine
  • Within 15 minutes of a potentially fatal injury, the mine must report the incident or be subjected to a civil penalty
  • Abandoned mine areas must have an MSHA-established seal
  • 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 for first and second offenses
  • Establish 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

Note that the specific dollar value of monetary penalties is subject to change. For more information about penalty assessments for standards violations, visit the OSHA website.

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 between 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.