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One Year Later: Remembering the Miners of Montcoal

On April 5, 2010, 29 miners died in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in Montcoal, WV. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis discusses the efforts undertaken by the federal government to improve mine safety.

Ed. note: This was originally posted on Work In Progress, the Department of Labor blog. Read another blog post on this topic on the Middle Class Task Force blog.

One year ago today, in West Virginia, 29 men died in the worst mine disaster in 40 years.

Wives lost husbands. Parents lost sons. Children lost fathers. Neighbors lost friends.  And a community lost a big part of its soul.

Since that day, I have been convinced that the best way to honor these men is to do everything in our power so that a tragedy like this never happens again.

The administration has taken many steps to make that goal a reality.  The Mine Safety and Health Administration (a part of the U.S. Department of Labor) has made available unprecedented resources to find out what exactly happened on April 5, 2010 and we are making sure that the U.S. Department of Justice can fully prosecute any wrongdoers.

But there is more: We have increased enforcement of the law and set safety standards that integrate the latest science with common sense. We are using every tool available to us right now to keep miners safe, and that includes targeted enforcement, regulatory reforms and compliance assistance. We’ve also implemented “impact inspections” to target mines with a history of problems.  We’ve proposed regulations to require operators to find and fix violations.  And, we have cracked down on mines with recurring hazards.

There is still more to do.  We want to empower MSHA investigators and miners themselves to be change agents in the culture of some parts of the mining industry, because our inspectors cannot be in every mine, every hour, every day.  We need help from Congress to do that.  Among other efforts, we are asking lawmakers for stronger criminal penalties for operators that deliberately disregard health and safety standards in mines, and protections for whistleblower who report hazards.

A year after this preventable tragedy, I am still convinced that the most fitting memorial for the 29 miners who we lost, and to their families they left behind, is action.

Hilda Solis is the Secretary of Labor.