ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Federal regulators are helping miners fight suspensions, discharges and other discriminatory actions by companies after they report or refuse to work in unsafe conditions.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration said the enforcement effort includes educating miners about their health and safety rights. The agency also is taking legal action to get miners who file mine safety discrimination complaints temporarily reinstated to their jobs.
Miners' fears of retaliation and discrimination were revealed during congressional hearings following the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 workers in 2010, MSHA said.
"All miners have the right to a safe workplace, and the right to identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination or retaliation," MSHA director Joe Main said Thursday in a news release. "Since I arrived at MSHA nearly three years ago, one of my top goals has been to educate miners about those rights and protections, and to rigorously enforce them."
MSHA said it filed 70 mine safety discrimination complaints during fiscal years 2010 and 2011, compared to 39 during the previous two fiscal years. Requests for temporary reinstatements submitted by the agency on behalf of miners rose from 22 to 71 during the same period.
The Mine Safety and Health Act prohibits the discharge or discrimination against a miner who files a health or safety complaint.
MSHA said it is developing a guide for miners' representatives that explains their rights under the 1977 law. It is expected to be completed in the fall.
There also are online training tools to help miners understand their rights and responsibilities, including videos and an electronic form for filing an anonymous hazard complaint.