By Peter Gould
Let us stop for a moment to reflect on where we are and how we arrived. Congress explains its reasons for enacting the Mine Act with an important introductory section entitled “Findings and Purpose.” That section states, in part:
Sec. 2. Congress declares that —
(a) the first priority and concern of all in the . . . mining industry must be the health and safety of its most precious resource — the miner. . .
(g) it is the purpose of this Act (1) to establish interim mandatory health and safety standards and to direct the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Secretary of Labor to develop and promulgate improved mandatory health or safety standards to protect the health and safety of the nation’s coal or other miners; (2) to require that each operator of a coal or other mine and every miner in such mine comply with such standards; (3) to cooperate with and provide assistance to, the states in the development and enforcement of effective state coal and other mine health and safety programs; and (4) to improve and expand, in cooperation with the states and the . . . mining industry, research and development and training programs aimed at preventing coal or other mine accidents and occupationally caused diseases in the industry.
Indeed, those stated purposes and goals are praiseworthy. All operators likely would agree that the miner is the industry’s most precious resource, and the well-being of all miners is of paramount importance. In Section 302(a) of the Mine Act, Congress establishes the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) as follows:
There is established in the Department of Labor a Mine Safety and Health Administration to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health appointed by the President . . . The Secretary is authorized and directed, except as specifically provided otherwise, to carry out his functions under the [Mine Act] through [MSHA].
It is clear from the above Mine Act language that the creation and enforcement of improved health and safety standards are among MSHA’s mandates from Congress in achieving safe mines, and enforcement is a means to that important end. It is also clear, however, that despite the opinions of many that MSHA is strictly a law enforcement agency, Congress, in its wisdom, intended that enforcement be only one means to achieving safe mines.
For example, Section 2(g)(4) of the Mine Act requires cooperation, research and development, and training programs to prevent mining accidents and occupational illnesses. Sections 501 and 502(c)(3) require that “studies, research, experiments, and demonstrations as may be appropriate” in the field of mine safety shall be conducted, coordinated, and carried out by and among MSHA and other agencies. That section also details the types of work Congress had in mind when it passed the Mine Act.