Obama budget slashes safety investments

Therese Dunphy

April 11, 2013

U.S. capitol

The FY2014 budget released by the Obama Administration on April 10 increases across-the-board spending by 2 percent, but cuts Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) programs critical to enhancing the safety of aggregates workers.

According to a report from the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), the budget cuts the $8.3 million allocated in FY2013 for the State Grants program. It also calls for a $300,000 reduction in the budget of the Small Mines Consulting Program (SCMP). Total cuts to MSHA’s educational policy development would amount to $9 million under the proposed budget. At the same time, the budget calls for increased funding for enforcement, including adding $2.64 million for “strengthening metal and non-metal mine enforcement.”

The budget follow’s MSHA’s decision to cut nearly 65 percent of all funding for the States Grants program in the FY2013 budget. While sequestration caused the Labor Department to cut its budget by 8 percent overall, disproportionately large cuts are being made to a critical safety program this year.

In a letter to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main, NSSGA President and CEO Gus Edwards cited the agency’s own FY2013 budget language about the importance of training to worker safety.

“Training plays a critical role in preventing deaths, injuries, and illnesses on the job. By providing effective training, miners are able to recognize possible hazards and understand the safe procedures to follow. MSHA will continue to increase visibility and emphasis on training because it is critically important to making progress in reducing the number of injuries and fatalities,” the excerpt reads.

Edwards is smart to remind the agency of its very own language. During dialogue with operators, MSHA is quick to state that it must take whatever punitive action it is taking because “it’s in the Mine Act.”

But if MSHA or the Obama Administration looks at the Mine Act, Section 503, paragraph H, it will find the following:

“There is authorized to be appropriated $3 million for FY1970 and $10 million annually in each subsequent year to carry out the provisions of this section, which shall remain available until expended. The Secretary shall provide for an equitable distribution of sums appropriated for grants under this section to the states where there is an approved application, except that no less than one-half of such sums shall be allocated to coal-producing states.”

The Mine Act doesn’t say it will allocate training funds “until sequestration” or “until we decide to spend more on enforcement and less on training.” If an operator were to argue that it would have provided all eight (or potentially soon-to-be nine) hours of annual training, but it opted to spend its limited financial resources on more man-hours, I don’t think the visiting inspector would view that decision-making kindly.

While Obama’s proposed budget  may not be the final one, all signs are that both the agency and the administration are putting an end to federally funded worker safety training.

Get on the phone with your members of Congress and tell them the industry believes worker safety is priority one and we expect those responsible for safeguarding that goal to live up to their federally mandated responsibilities. After all, “it’s in the Mine Act.”

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