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Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

Self Description

July 2011:
"History of Mine Safety and Health Legislation

In 1891, Congress passed the first federal statute governing mine safety, marking the beginning of what was to be an extended evolution of increasingly comprehensive federal legislation regulating mining activities. The 1891 law was relatively modest legislation that applied only to mines in U.S. territories, and, among other things, established minimum ventilation requirements at underground coal mines and prohibited operators from employing children under 12 years of age.

In 1910, following a decade in which the number of coal mine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau of Mines as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was charged with the responsibility to conduct research and to reduce accidents in the coal mining industry, but was given no inspection authority until 1941, when Congress empowered federal inspectors to enter mines. In 1947, Congress authorized the formulation of the first code of federal regulations for mine safety.

The Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1952 provided for annual inspections in certain underground coal mines, and gave the Bureau limited enforcement authority, including power to issue violation notices and imminent danger withdrawal orders. The 1952 Act also authorized the assessment of civil penalties against mine operators for noncompliance with withdrawal orders or for refusing to give inspectors access to mine property, although no provision was made for monetary penalties for noncompliance with the safety provisions. In 1966, Congress extended coverage of the 1952 Coal Act to all underground coal mines.

The first federal statute directly regulating non-coal mines did not appear until the passage of the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966. The 1966 Act provided for the promulgation of standards, many of which were advisory, and for inspections and investigations; however, its enforcement authority was minimal.

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, generally referred to as the Coal Act, was more comprehensive and more stringent than any previous Federal legislation governing the mining industry. The Coal Act included surface as well as underground coal mines within its scope, required two annual inspections of every surface coal mine and four at every underground coal mine, and dramatically increased federal enforcement powers in coal mines. The Coal Act also required monetary penalties for all violations, and established criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The safety standards for all coal mines were strengthened, and health standards were adopted. The Coal Act included specific procedures for the development of improved mandatory health and safety standards, and provided compensation for miners who were totally and permanently disabled by the progressive respiratory disease caused by the inhalation of fine coal dust pneumoconiosis or "black lung".

In 1973, the Secretary of the Interior, through administrative action, created the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) as a new departmental agency separate from the Bureau of Mines. MESA assumed the safety and health enforcement functions formerly carried out by the Bureau to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest between the enforcement of mine safety and health standards and the Bureau's responsibilities for mineral resource development.

Next, Congress passed the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), the legislation which currently governs MSHA's activities. The Mine Act amended the 1969 Coal Act in a number of significant ways, and consolidated all federal health and safety regulations of the mining industry, coal as well as non-coal mining, under a single statutory scheme. The Mine Act strengthened and expanded the rights of miners, and enhanced the protection of miners from retaliation for exercising such rights. Mining fatalities dropped sharply under the Mine Act from 272 in 1977 to 86 in 2000. The Mine Act also transferred responsibility for carrying out its mandates from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor, and named the new agency the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Additionally, the Mine Act established the independent Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to provide for independent review of the majority of MSHA's enforcement actions.

In 2006, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act). The MINER Act amended the Mine Act to require mine-specific emergency response plans in underground coal mines; added new regulations regarding mine rescue teams and sealing of abandoned areas; required prompt notification of mine accidents; and enhanced civil penalties."

Third-Party Descriptions

June 2011: "Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, described a dual accounting system practiced by Massey before the deadly explosion, in which safety problems and efforts to fix them were recorded in an internal set of books, out of sight of state inspectors, and off the official books that the law required them to keep."

April 2010: 'J. Davitt McAteer, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration, said the issue can create dangers at mines. "Right now the inspector walks in and says, 'I'm going to issue this paper,' " he said. "You are the mine foreman. You say, 'Issue anything you want. Won't make any difference; I'm turning it over to the lawyers, and they will jam it up in the system in Washington. You won't ever see a dime.' It goes into the paper-shuffle world away from safety."'

April 2010: "Three miners have died there since 1998, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Upper Big Branch for 1,342 safety violations from 2005 through Monday, proposing $1.89 million in fines, according to federal records."

April 2008: 'A few days before the FAA hearing, a report by the Labor Department's inspector general reached disturbingly similar conclusions about the roof collapse at Utah's Crandall Canyon mine that killed nine people last August. It found that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was "negligent in carrying out its responsibilities to protect the safety of miners" -- and, again, that this illustrated a "serious and systemic lack of diligence in protecting miners."'

October 2007: The coalition noted that the same court ruled after a similar accident more than 20 years ago that the Mine Safety and Health Administration must make its proceedings public.

January 2006: The chief enforcer of federal mining laws, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, defends its performance, pointing to a steady decline in the number of deaths and injuries in coal mines in recent years. Some of the decline has been attributed to increased mechanization, though both industry and union officials acknowledge improvements in safety practices.

January 2006: In the past two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as 'significant and substantial,' according to documents compiled by the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Many were for problems that could contribute to accidental explosions or the collapse of mine tunnels, records show.


RoleNameTypeLast Updated
Cooperation (past or present) Opponent (past or present) CONSOL Energy Organization Apr 10, 2010
Owned by (partial or full, past or present) Department of Labor/Labor Department (DOL) Organization May 16, 2005
Cooperation (past or present) Opponent (past or present) Massey Energy Company Organization Apr 10, 2010
Organization Head/Leader (past or present) David D. Lauriski Person Jan 8, 2006
Organization Head/Leader (past or present) Joseph A. Main Person Apr 8, 2010
Organization Head/Leader (past or present) J. Davitt McAteer Person Jan 5, 2006
Organization Executive (past or present) Prof. Celeste Monforton DrPH Person Apr 8, 2010

Articles and Resources

Date Resource Read it at:
Jun 29, 2011 Mine Owners Misled Inspectors, Investigators Say

QUOTE: Federal investigators said Wednesday that Massey Energy, the owner of the West Virginia mine where 29 men were killed in an explosion last year, misled government inspectors by keeping accounts of hazardous conditions out of official record books where inspectors would see them.

New York Times
Apr 10, 2010 Mines avoid crackdowns by challenging safety citations

QUOTE: By contesting the citations, the 32 mines were able to avoid falling into a "potential pattern of violation" category, which would have brought closer scrutiny and moved regulators a step closer to the ability to restrict or shut down operations.

Washington Post
Apr 07, 2010 West Virginia mine has been cited for myriad safety violations

QUOTE: The West Virginia mine where at least 25 workers died Monday in an explosion was written up more than 50 times last month for safety violations. Twelve of the citations involved problems with ventilating the mine and preventing a buildup of deadly methane.

Washington Post
May 08, 2008 Utah Mine Disaster Was Preventable, Report Says

QUOTE: The general manager and possibly other senior staff at the Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington, Utah, where 9 miners died in August 2007, hid information from federal mining officials that could have prevented the disaster and should face criminal charges...

New York Times
Apr 09, 2008 When a Watchdog Isn't

QUOTE: In an era of lousy customer service, when there is never an actual human being at the end of the alleged help line, it may seem refreshing to encounter an institution still guided by the principle that the customer comes first. Unfortunately, that institution is the federal government, and the coddled customers are, all too often, the industries it is supposed to regulate.

Washington Post
Oct 02, 2007 News media sue to open probe into Utah mine disaster

QUOTE: A coalition of news media organizations has filed suit in an effort to get the government investigation into the Crandall Canyon mine accident opened to the public.

CNN (Cable News Network)
Aug 21, 2007 Utah Search for 6 Miners Is Suspended Indefinitely

QUOTE: [Although] relatives of the miners lashed out at officials and the mine’s owners, faulting their rescue efforts as insufficient... A panel of eight mining experts from around the country met Sunday and Monday, poring over records of seismic activity before concluding that further rescue activities would be unsafe.

New York Times
Jun 17, 2006 Agency Sues Mining Company in Wake of Fire

QUOTE: The civil suit, filed in a Federal District Court in West Virginia, describes a "broad refusal" by the company, Massey Energy, to turn over documents concerning management authority, ventilation, previous fires, construction projects and other matters at the Aracoma mine near Melville, W.Va.

New York Times
May 23, 2006 Mine Where 5 Died Had History of Violations

QUOTE: The Kentucky mine where five men were killed in an explosion on Saturday had been cited at least 41 times in the last five years for failing to clean up coal dust properly, which can lead to explosions, according to federal records.

New York Times
Jan 08, 2006 Sago Puts Spotlight On Safety Strategy: U.S. Mine Agency Issues Citations, but Penalties Are Light

QUOTE: Two winters ago, what had been a mediocre safety record at West Virginia's Sago Mine grew dramatically worse....Government regulators never publicly discussed shutting down the mine and never sought criminal sanctions. The biggest single fine was $440...

Washington Post
Jan 04, 2006 Safety Violations Have Piled Up at Coal Mine

QUOTE: ...the mine's safety record came into sharp focus as officials searched for explanations for Monday's underground explosion. That record, as reflected in dozens of federal inspection reports, shows a succession of operators struggling to overcome serious, long-standing safety problems, some of which could be part of the investigation into the cause of the explosion that trapped 13 miners.

Washington Post
Aug 20, 2002 The Real Thing

QUOTE: ...there is an inexorably growing gap between the image and the reality of the Bush administration's policies.

New York Times