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  • Writer's pictureDiane Watson

Miner's Work Refusal Saves His Life

If you read the recent MSHA fatal investigation report released by the Agency your head was probably shaking trying to understand, like me, why anyone would put themselves in a position to perform an act so unsafe that it was obvious as to the outcome.

On December 6, 2021, a lead man directed another miner to enter the feeder of a surge pile to cut angle iron to free a slide gate that was stuck partially open. The miner, having assessed the hazardous condition, refused. The lead man decided to do it himself and was engulfed by material and died days later of his injuries. Was it arrogance, complacency or ego that drove him to put himself at grave risk? We may never know the answer.

What is immediately clear is that a miner exercised his right to refuse to do a dangerous job assigned to him and he is still alive today because of it.

Thanks to the Federal Mine Safety and Heath Act of 1977 (the Act), work refusals are a right afforded to all miners in the United States. There are some important things miners should know before refusing an assignment; it must be reasonable, the miner must have a good faith belief that the condition or practice poses a threat of serious injury; and the miner must communicate their concern to management so it can be addressed. Managers should respond by addressing the concerns of the miner, correcting the condition, or explain why there is no hazard if none exists; and, as a last resort, offer alternative work.

Significant failures occurred which resulted in the loss of a lead miner and the suffering and mourning of his fellow miners who came to his aid and dug him out. So many lives affected by the decision of one person in charge. It could’ve been worse if the other miner had not understood his rights and spoken up to refuse to engage in an unsafe act.

My heart goes out to all the miners, rescuers and investigators who were affected by this preventable tragedy. As industry leaders, we can clearly do better.

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