Miners must feel safe to voice concerns

During the past year, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration filed 39 requests that miners allegedly suspended or fired for expressing concerns about safety be reinstated. That was a one-year record, according to the agency – far higher than the 26-per-year average for the past three years.

It is not unusual in the wake of fatal accidents for miners to complain they knew working conditions were unsafe but were afraid to say anything until after a co-worker was killed. Yet federal law prohibits retaliation against a miner for filing a health or safety complaint – or for refusing to work under unsafe conditions.

During the past few years, after terrible tragedies at coal mines in West Virginia, MSHA and other federal authorities have taken a more hard-line approach to safety. Some coal company employees have been charged with criminal offenses for their attempts to cover up unsafe working conditions.

When MSHA can prove miners who complain about safety or health concerns have been retaliated against, action beyond demanding their reinstatement should be taken. If it is established beyond reasonable doubt disciplinary steps were taken to discourage miners from acting to keep themselves and co-workers safe, companies involved should be penalized severely.

No miner should be afraid of losing his or her job because of insistence that health and safety rules be followed.