Today, workers will once again gather in various locations in observance of Workers Memorial Day in recognition that more than 4,600 workers who were killed on the job in 2011 (the latest year for which complete data is available.) These deaths span many ages, industries, and causes of death, and every state.
This is something that one would expect, the Chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee would have a comment … but expect John Kline to remain silent as has after too many workplace tragedies.
Actually, Chairman Kline is more apt to complain of “excessive regulation” from the “Imperial Presidency” waging a “War on Coal” than to acknowledge that regulations have a positive impact.
Sadly, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health report, “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities”, offering recommendations will ignored.
The report points to just a few reforms that are needed:
— Meaningful immigration reform, which would bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and give them protections afforded to all workers.
— A stronger Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would make felony charges possible when repeat or willful violations result in a worker’s death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.
— An Injury and Illness Prevention Standard, which would require employers to find and fix health and safety hazards in the workplace.
The most recent change in regulations announced by the Obama Administration addresses coal mine dust with the stated objective of reducing black lung disease (known medically as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.)
The new exposure levels are the first revision in coal dust standards in over 40 years.
According to the American Lung Association, breathing in coal dust particles scars and stiffens lung tissue. Over time, the lungs harden, making breathing more difficult.
Black lung disease is incurable, untreatable, and often fatal.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than 76,000 miners have died since 1968 as a result of the disease.
Currently, some miners wear dust-sampling devices, but samples are sent to labs, so it typically takes days to get results back.
The Department of Labor’s new rules cut concentration limits for respirable (breathable) coal mine dust from 2 milligrams per cubic liter of air to 1.5 milligrams, and increase the frequency of dust sampling in mines.
Presently, the practice of averaging dust samples allows for miners on some shifts to be exposed to levels above the standard.
So who would complain about a slight change ?
Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp. said it planned to sue the Labor Department to try to prevent the rules from taking effect as planned over the next two years.
As previously mentioned, John “Coal Man” Kline is a favorite of Murray Energy … including its CEO, Bob Murray who is known for offering a prayer after President Obama’s election :
The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance.
President Obama’s re-election was so unpopular with one of Mitt Romney’s major campaign contributors that Mr, Murray prayed for divine intervention the day after and claimed it forced him to lay off 156 staff.
In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Kris Maher explains, “Under the [new] rules, when a monitor registers dust levels above the new standard, operators must lower the concentration of dust in the air—which could mean slowing production—and make respirators available to affected miners.”
Yep, lower production is a reason to object to improved safety regulations.
Yet, Chairman Kline is also a constant complainer of the Affordable Care Act and has voted over 50 times to repeal or delay Obamacare.
One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act made it easier for miners and their surviving spouses to get benefits related to Black Lung disease. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, miners had to prove that coal dust was the significant cause of their disease and not other factors (such as smoking). An October 2009 report, the Government Accountability Office said over half of claimants who were denied benefits and lost on appeal in fiscal year 2008 “they could [prove] that pneumoconiosis had caused disability or death.”
The ACA shifted the burden of proof in those cases from the miner to the mining company by requiring the company to prove that coal dust was not a significant factor in the disease.
The second change caused by the ACA ended the practice of requiring a widow to reapply for survivor benefits after her husband dies … essentially having to “prove the whole case again”.
While Chairman Kline may ignore Worker’s Memorial Day, voters should remember his positions on November 4th … his opposition to commonsense workplace safety regulations as well as the Affordable Care Act.