• Sarah Ghiz Korwan, Esq.

Bill Introduced in Congress to Compel MSHA to Issue Emergency Standard

It is axiomatic that the U.S. Department of Labor and its Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is the agency chiefly responsible for the health of miners, yet MSHA has failed to issue at least a temporary standard related to the coronavirus.

To address this deficiency, on February 1, 2021, West Virginia’s two U.S. senators and six members of Congress introduced a bill, the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act, that would add COVID-19 protection for miners.

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would compel mine operators to:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan, integrating guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIOSH and relevant scientific research

  • Provide miners with personal protective equipment

  • In cooperation with CDC and NIOSH, track, analyze and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data to inform recommendations and guidance

President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order on Jan. 21, Protecting Worker Health and Safety, directing OSHA and MSHA to consider Emergency Temporary Standards related to COVID-19. However, the Order was more in the nature of guidance and support for protecting workers’ health, and less a specific mandate.

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, supports the bill introduced by the bipartisan group and called it “long overdue”. Although he applauded the President’s executive order, he was not confident that MSHA would act unless required. In a statement regarding the bill COVID-19 bill, Roberts said that, “this legislation will ensure that MSHA will issue such an order, enforce it and then make it permanent.”

MSHA said it issued 195 citations for sanitary conditions that could have contributed to coronavirus spread from March 1 to December 31. The Labor Department’s Office of the Inspector General in July released a report recommending that MSHA monitor COVID-19 outbreaks at mines and reevaluate its decision not to issue an emergency temporary standard.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito was the only Republican listed among those introducing the bill in Congress. Joining Manchin and Capito in introducing the bill were: Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, Sen, Bob Casey, D-PA; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH; and Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-PA.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, sponsored a bill with the same purpose in May, but the measure failed to advance out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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