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Black lung is resurgent in coal mining areas, despite all the industry's whining about President Obama's overzealous regulations. So how are regulations and modern safety equipment not preventing a disease that had been declining since the 1970s? For one thing, there's a lot of cheating. Dave Jamieson reports that, at one unannounced Mine Safety and Health Administration inspection:
According to witnesses, supervisors at the mine went into a panic, ordering workers to shut down their machines and stop running coal.

There was good reason for the freakout. According to Labor Department documents, Armstrong miners weren't wearing their coal dust pumps. These are the devices that measure the amount of dust in a mine's atmosphere; when a company is sampling dust levels, miners are supposed to wear them for a full shift as they work. At Parkway, the MSHA report says an inspector found the two dust pumps hanging away from where the coal was being mined and at the power center, where the air is much cleaner. The pumps were guaranteed to register dust levels much lower than those to which miners were actually being exposed.

It didn't take long before the worker who'd called in an anonymous tip was fired.

The MSHA is tightening the allowable level of coal dust and requiring a new kind of dust monitor that will make it harder to cheat—but there's little doubt that coal companies will continue to find ways to cheat, endangering their workers' health as they do.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri May 30, 2014 at 10:22 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  19th Century processes, 19th Century exploitation (5+ / 0-)
    Could Robots Replace Humans in Mines?

    The biggest obstacle, though, is cost. The original research project was federally funded, but that money has dried up, and it's not clear where future funding will come from. Robots need to be certified by the federal government, and that is a costly and time-consuming process.

    So far, the U.S. mining industry has shown little interest in funding such research. The robots are expensive and mining companies have little incentive to spend money developing and deploying them. Advances in other technology have already reduced the number of miners in the U.S. by more than two-thirds, compared with 40 years ago. Today, only about 100,000 people work in the coal-mining industry.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "If we appear to seek the unattainable, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable." (@eState4Column5)

    by annieli on Fri May 30, 2014 at 10:34:12 AM PDT

  •  Koal....a Growth Industry. (0+ / 0-)
  •  Cheatin' is just part of the game (0+ / 0-)

    in the modern economy.  Indeed, it is the game.

    And if there's no one to enforce the rules or to enforce them right, the game is gamed.  And it's really gamed when there is no one to make rules at all except the cheaters.

    "You cannot win improv." Stephen Colbert ( at 16:24).

    by Publius2008 on Fri May 30, 2014 at 05:04:37 PM PDT

  •  government or private industry (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dinotrac, flitedocnm

    The whistleblower is punished.

    How can we expect our society to move forward if those who point out wrongdoing are punished and those who did wrong get a slap on the wrist?

  •  Will the coal industry be happy if (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    flitedocnm, cowdab

    we go back to the days that choked Pittsburgh??

    Look at these pictures!

    Faux News ruined my state

    by sc kitty on Fri May 30, 2014 at 05:25:17 PM PDT

    •  Management never thinks they will personally (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, Hoghead99

      pay for what they help their companies do to people and the environment.  

      I grew up in a state that relied heavily on strip mining coal.  There were also deep mines.  My uncle worked them and said the guys would smoke on break down in the mine.  Nobody seemed to care but it made him nervous.

      Family history is closely interwoven with union vs. company and I heard and witnessed it all my life until we retired and left that area.  Acid water running in our ditches and leaching everywhere.  Our well had good water until the strip mine a couple of miles away blasted and cracked it.  Then we had the old acid water that comes off of coal mixed in it.  

      This was in the 60s when the union was strong.   Cheating and just plain pestering union workers was their greatest joy.  OSHA was good at that time but when OSHA wasn't looking..... also the power plants that knew inspection was coming and when would turn on their scrubbers and run high grade coal for the inspection.  After that they went right back to cheap coal and lax scrubber use.

      I don't know how it works now.  Unions are nearly out of the picture and most mines there are non-union now.  I would guess that it has gone steadily down hill.   Enforcement sounds nearly non-existent these days.  So we feel so sorry for those stuck in coal mining for their daily bread.  Bad economy and where they gonna go.  Yes, we were company people and we  packed up and left as soon as we could.  It is a sad, poor ugly place where there once was farms, trees and beauty.  That is what big energy companies want for all of us.

  •  Meat cogs are expendable. (0+ / 0-)

    Meat cogs are expendable.

  •  All hail the power of market forces (0+ / 0-)

    You can get humans to do almost anything if enough money is on the line.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:52:01 PM PDT

    •  In the rural community... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, cowdab

         ...the mines pay some of the best wages around. It's not that folks are setting out to fry the planet and personally screw the climate, it's just dollars and cents... The employers will continue to pay those good wages, until the last breath has been squeezed out of the United Mineworkers. After that, all bets are off.

      My UMWA job in the mines kept a roof over our head and food on the table. My wife hasn't been employed outside the home in 40 years. The wages I was able to earn  put her and our 2 kids through college...

      I hired out in 1973, and we had no way of knowing that they wouldn't figure out a way to burn the stuff cleanly, or more cleanly, whatever it took.

      Compost for a greener piles?

      by Hoghead99 on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:17:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's what makes this a tragedy (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Without the mines, what is there for people to do? How are they to make a living? People have to eat, keep a roof over their heads, and all the other things needed to keep flesh and bone together. We all do.

        Freedom is about having choices, and making those choices better. We ought to be able to come up with a better choice than starving now, or living well but at the price of slowly destroying the earth.

        The thing is, we have enough wealth, enough knowledge for everyone to have a decent life style, one that we ought to be able to make work for everyone. So what's the hang up?

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:40:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You are so right. The money was good and so (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        were the UMWA benefits. The company offered great salary and benefits to union men they wanted to  promote to management positions.

        UMWA has been hit hard; and it has lost the struggle in many areas ever since Saint Regan  blew away the competition.  He made an example of the Air Traffic Controllers and it worked.  Almost 35 years later we are seeing the continuing effort to crush unions.  
        We always knew very well which side our bread was buttered from. It was the union.That is why my husband always respected the union employees and did his best to keep them happy.  He always said that when the company gave the union workers crap it made their job that much harder and his too.  

  •  Matewan (0+ / 0-)

    Just saw this movie for the second time, wanted to introduce it to my college aged daughter.  All you'll ever need to know about the importance of unions, the struggles they faced and coal companies concerns for their employees.  Oh and some racial history thrown in , too.

  •  Whistleblower... (0+ / 0-)

    Shouldn't the worker who tipped MSHA have certain safeguards against firing as a whistleblower?  (I don't know much about the mining industry, but I was a supervisor for union employees at an airline and retaliation would not have been an option...)

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