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  • ACOEM Comments on Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010

    September 17, 2010

    The Honorable George Miller
    Committee on Education and Labor
    US House of Representatives
    2181 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, DC 20515

    Re:  H.R. 5663

    Dear Chairman Miller:

    The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) is taking this opportunity to comment on the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 (HR 5663).

    ACOEM represents more than 5,000 physicians and other health care professionals specializing in the field of occupational and environmental medicine. Founded in 1916, ACOEM is the nation's largest medical society dedicated to promoting the health of workers through preventive medicine, clinical care, disability management, research, and education.

    ACOEM and its members have worked closely with the Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to ensure the optimal health and safety of workers and workplaces.

    From the perspective of occupational medicine, effective measures to improve health and safety of miners are welcomed and long overdue. ACOEM supports the objectives for mine safety and health provisions in this bill, including giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to pursue an independent investigation of a mine accident by creating a panel headed by NIOSH to investigate accidents; improving miners’ rights to report problems without fear of retaliation; identifying “patterns of recurring noncompliance or accidents” detailed as “pattern status” for the purpose of enforcement; and increasing the amount of fines/penalties including fines for retaliation. This will involve more inspections by MSHA, enhanced enforcement, and improved measurement of the atmospheres in underground mines for coal dust (explosion and respiratory health potential) as well as measurement of other gases (methane and carbon monoxide).

    With respect to the provisions of H.R. 5663 that would amend the OSH Act, while we support the strengthening of the enforcement provisions and additional protection for workers, because of a lack of a bipartisan consensus on the OSH Act revisions, we suggest that the MSHA and OSH Act revisions be considered separately. Further, we believe that revisions to the OSH Act must include fixing a standard-setting process that many feel is broken. It seems clear that for more than two decades, the OSHA regulatory process has proceeded slowly, particularly with regard to health standards. That slow pace has needlessly permitted numerous workers to be exposed for years to specific industrial chemicals at levels that OSHA ultimately deemed unacceptable. ACOEM continues to object to such lack of timeliness in the promulgation of occupational health standards. For example, ACOEM has recommended to OSHA the need for an Emergency Temporary Standard for diacetyl and the need to revise the out-dated OSHA Lead Standard.

    While we understand and support your efforts to strengthen occupational safety and health protections for workers in every workplace, with the short time remaining in this Congressional session and the tragedy of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster still fresh in our collective memory, we urge you to focus on achieving consensus to enact the mine safety and health provisions contained in H.R. 5663.

    Thank you for your consideration of our views.

    Natalie P. Hartenbaum, MD, MPH, FACOEM President