McKinley, Cartwright Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Mine Workers from COVID-19 Health Risks

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Washington, July 23, 2020 | comments
WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, U.S. Representatives David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-W.Va.) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) announced the introduction of the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act to implement safety guidelines for mine workers facing unique health risks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Every day, West Virginia miners go to work in difficult conditions to keep the lights on across America,” said Rep. McKinley. “The COVID-19 pandemic increases the need for stronger safety protections for these miners. This bipartisan bill would ensure reasonable workplace safety standards to protect miners from COVID-19 on the job and ensure miners can continue their essential work without fear of further endangering themselves or their families.”

“Miners already have tough jobs as it is. But now, working in close quarters puts them at risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to their loved ones,” Cartwright said. “In Northeastern Pennsylvania, we know how important it is to support mine workers and ensure they have safe working conditions. This Democrat- and Republican-supported bill would implement responsible safety guidance and deliver personal protective equipment so that miners can go to work, stay healthy and continue putting food on the table during this health crisis.”

“Every worker needs to be protected from COVID-19 in the workplace. Miners, many of whom already have serious lung impairments, are at heightened risk if they contract COVID-19. And miners are often unable to physically distance due the nature of their jobs.  It is not too much to ask operators to develop an infection control plan and provide miners the equipment they need to keep themselves safe and protect their families,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, a cosponsor of the bill.

“I commend Representative Matt Cartwright, Representative David McKinley and the 19 other members of the House who are sponsors and original co-sponsors of the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act. This bill, if passed, will save miners’ lives. America’s miners have been on the job every day during this pandemic, producing the critical materials our nation has continued to need regardless of the virus. Many have contracted COVID-19, but because nearly all mines are located in more rural areas of the country, the spread of the virus has not been as severe as it has in other areas. That is now changing, and miners need the protection provided by this legislation now more than ever,” said UMWA president Cecil E. Roberts.

Background:

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mining has been considered an essential business by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the critical role it plays in maintaining the country’s energy infrastructure. Because of the unique working conditions in mines, however, mine workers face increased occupational risk for exposure to respiratory illness, especially COVID-19.

It can be difficult to avoid clustering throughout a shift, especially in changing rooms where miners begin their shifts and then in personnel carriers, hoists and elevators that transport workers to the mine. Once at the worksite, miners share a limited air supply that is circulated to minimize coal dust accumulation. Mine workers also share large machinery and often work shoulder to shoulder in tight spaces. These risks are compounded by the fact that miners are already more prone to cardio-pulmonary diseases that make contracting COVID-19 even deadlier.

The U.S. Department of Labor and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have so far failed to issue an emergency standard of practices. The United Mine Workers of America reports that individual operators and local unions have been left to mitigate the risks of the deadly coronavirus on their own, increasing risk of exposure and putting mine workers and their families at risk.

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would require the Department of Labor to provide necessary protections for mine workers by working with operators and miners to formulate a plan to address occupational exposure to the coronavirus and provide miners with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, it would create mechanisms to record, report, investigate, and analyze data on COVID-19 among miners.

This bill is the House companion to the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act introduced in May by Senator Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.a.).  

This legislation is endorsed by the United Mine Workers of America.

 
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