A mine safety law that’s been on the books since 1977 was intended to give miners the ability to report problems without retribution. This is a law that’s rarely been used and often when it has managers and not working miners serve as the representatives.
A number of issues were uncovered during congressional hearings after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 men. Statements from miners and family members of the miners who died indicated that mine employees had been reluctant to speak out about safety conditions in existence prior to the April 2010 explosion, fearing retaliation by management.
Former and current miners admitted they knew nothing about their right to elect a representative of miners either.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is hoping to raise more awareness with a handbook and online resource page called The Miners’ Representative Guide.
A miners’ representative is any person, group or organization designated by two or more miners to represent their interest during health and safety enforcement processes at their mine.
This includes managers and supervisors.
Longtime safety advocate Tony Oppegard pointed out during an interview in April 2012 that managers already have the right to travel with inspectors. He says congress needs to take the next step and insist MSHA make a policy managers can’t serve as miners' reps.
"Because it defeats the entire purpose of the miners’ rep provision," Oppegard said, "and frankly you don’t have management looking out for the safety of miners.”
Oppegard argues that electing managers as miner’s reps can prevent the law from working the way should.
Miners were given a right to elect a representative in 1977 when the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act was enacted.
The new MSHA guide provides detailed information about: reporting hazardous conditions and imminent dangers, accident investigations, understanding the elements of discrimination, health and safety training, rights to information and records and more.
In a news release MSHA says in 2012 it filed more than double the requests for temporary re-instatement on behalf of miners who submitted complaints of discrimination after being fired, than any previous year.