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What Is Mine Safety and Health?

Entrance to a coal mine.
Large tunnels in a coal mine.
Most miners wear face protection, which may include a respirator.
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  • Written By: Ron Marr
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2014
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Becoming a miner is not for the weak of heart; underground mining is considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Injuries are frequent, and mine disasters often result in a great loss of life. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) oversees mine safety and health in the US. This division of the US Department of Labor monitors health conditions and safety procedures at all mines in America, and enforces a very strict set of rules and guidelines.

MSHA investigators conduct at least four annual inspections of underground mining operations, and at least two annual inspections of surface coal mines. Along with ensuring mine safety and health, the agency also has enforcement powers. The division checks structural integrity of roofs, ventilation, training programs, transport, and emergency response plans. Violations that might be cited range from miners lacking proper safety helmets to unsafe storage of explosives to malfunctioning equipment.

MSHA has the ability to assess financial penalties for any and all violations one of its inspectors might discover. If the inspector determines that circumstances are potentially dangerous to miner safety and health, he can order the mine closed. Such a closure could be immediate, indefinite, and until the suspect conditions are rectified.

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In 2006 the US Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER). This legislation was instituted largely in response to the 2 January 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia. On that date an underground explosion trapped and killed 12 miners. The MINER Act amended existing law to stipulate that all American mines must have emergency response plans tailored to each specific operation.

Many other countries monitor mine health and safety via organizations that are operationally very similar to MSHA. Japan's mining laws are enforced by two agencies regulated by the Ministry of international Trade and Industry. The Japanese Mine Safety and Inspection Department and the Mine Safety and Inspection Bureau have the right to investigate and close mines as is warranted. The agencies set training procedures and spell out the responsibilities of mine owners and mine workers.

German mine safety and health is governed under a system of various state and federal laws, as well as local ordinances. Mine owners are compelled to contribute to a special insurance fund to cover potential accidents. German mining laws are somewhat more lax than other countries, though mine owners must set up training and safety programs for miners.

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