Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Underground mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Sen. John Nelson doesn't think it's dangerous enough

Underground mining has long been one of the most dangerous occupations in America.  At the beginning of the 20th Century, thousands of miners died on the job every year.  By the end of the century, that number was cut to "dozens" because of both heightened awareness and safety measures mandated by laws passed during the century.

In the latter part of the 20th Century and during the first decade of the 21st, some backsliding took place as the "Reagan Revolution" (followed by Bush I and Bush II, and, sad to say, Clinton) took place and corporate profit margins were allowed to grow at the cost of reduced miner safety margins.

In Arizona, the same pattern is being followed.

For instance, this state was so progressive at its inception that our constitution created the position of State Mine Inspector, who was supposed to help ensure miner safety by keeping an eye on mines in Arizona.

By the beginning of the 21st Century, that position had been turned into a sinecure for Republican legislators looking to pad their pensions.  They got and kept the job by serving up miners' safety to mining companies.

Now, Sen. John Nelson (R-Litchfield Park) is working to make Arizona's mine and miners even less safe than they are.

While the measure is low-profile (so far), it may be one of the most deliberately reckless and dangerous bills to come along in decades, if not in Arizona's nearly century-long history.
Nelson's SB1054 would remove one of the basic safety measures accorded to underground miners - an eight hour work day.

Under current law, miners can spend no more than eight hours in a 24 hour period underground.  Nelson would raise that limit by 50% to 12 hours.

Speaking as someone who has worked 12-hours shifts, in an environment far less stressful and hazardous than an underground mine (though one that was hardly hazard or stress-free), I can state unequivocally that the longer hours lead to fatigue and mistakes.

And if you don't believe me, read this report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.  While the report focuses on the effects of fatigue on nurses, the concepts apply to miners, and the rest of us.

Interestingly, Nelson's measure would also change a previous legislature's finding that *declared* that underground mining is "injurious to health and dangerous to life and limb" to the people engaged in the activity. His bill would change the law to read that underground mining "can be"  injurious to health and dangerous to life and limb of miners.

That's like saying that because guns are occasionally unloaded or misfire, that stepping in front of a gun only "can be" dangerous, not *is* dangerous.

1 comment:

Thane Eichenauer said...

If semi-truck drivers can drive 11 hours why can't miners work more than 8 hours?