Mine safety hearing takes shape; Harkin eyes broader focus

A Senate hearing next Tuesday on coal mining safety will also explore workplace hazards more broadly, according to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that will host the April 27 session.

The hearing will be the first on Capitol Hill to address the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia the killed 29 workers, the nation’s worst mining disaster in four decades.

“This hearing will examine weaknesses in our laws that provide incentives for companies to ignore the health and safety of workers – such as inadequate penalties and the excessive delays that employers can create in challenging citations,” a committee announcement states.

“These issues will be explored both in the context of mine safety and non-mine workplaces, where this is an equally prevalent problem, but will not explore the scientific causes of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster due to the ongoing investigation,” the committee said.

Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and other lawmakers, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), are exploring changes to mine safety laws. Rockefeller said April 20 that he expects legislation that toughens safety rules to reach the floor this year.

Here’s the witness list for the April 27 Senate hearing:

Panel I



Joe Main, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, Washington, DC




Panel II



Cecil Roberts, President, United Mine Workers, Triangle, VA



Jeff Harris, Mine Worker, Farley, WV 



Wes Addington, Deputy Director, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Whitesburg, KY



Bruce Watzman, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, National Mining Association, Washington, DC




Panel III 



David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Washington, DC




Panel IV



Peg Seminario, Director of Safety and Health, AFL-CIO, Bethesda, MD



Holly Shaw, Philadelphia, PA 



Dr. Michael Brandt, Board President (2010-2011), American Industrial Hygiene Association, Los Alamos, NM 



Kelli Heflin, Coordinator of Regulatory Compliance and Safety Manager, Scott’s Liquid Gold, Denver, CO