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FEDERAL MINE HEALTH AND SAFETY INSPECTION
AMENDMENTS OF 1949
THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 1949
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
SPECIAL SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10 a. m., Hon. Augustine B. Kelley (chairman) presiding.
Mr. KELLEY. The committee will please come to order.
This morning we begin hearings on H. R. 3023, a bill to amend Public Law 49 of the Seventy-seventh Congress, providing for the welfare of coal miners, and for other purposes.
(The bill referred to is as follows:)
(H. R. 3023, 81st Cong., 1st sess.) A BILL Amending Public Law 49, Seventy-seventh Congress, providing for the welfare of
coal miners, and for other purposes Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Public Law 49, Seventy-seventh Congress, chapter 87, first session, be amended as follows:
After subsection (e) of section 1, add the following:
“(f) Whenever a Federal coal-mine inspector, as provided in this Act, finds that imminent danger to employees in the mine exists, he shall immediately order the operating manager or his representative in the mine to cause all employees to be withdrawn from the unsafe area until such imminent danger is removed : Provided, however, That this subsection shall not apply to those employees that may be necessary to remove such imminent danger. Any operating manager or his representative who refuses to obey such order shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $500 or by imprisonment not exceeding sixty days, or both: Provided, however, That nothing in this subsection shall be construed or operate to nullify any existing contract between mine employees and mine management, or to nullify any existing State statutes, but this subsection is intended to supplement the aforesaid statutes in the interest of increased mine safety."
Mr. KELLEY. Will the Honorable Melvin Price please come forward to testify?
TESTIMONY OF HON. MELVIN PRICE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Mr. PRICE. Mr. Chairman, I have a prepared statement I would like to read to the committee.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I appear before you this morning, not as an expert on mine safety-I have never worked a day in a mine in my life, nor have I ever been associated in any way with any organizations, State, Federal, or private, that have related activities in this field. I know that the able chairman of this subcommittee, Mr. Kelley, has a career of 45 years from a laborer in the
mines to that of operator and owner on which to qualify as an expert. Other members of the committee have far more experience on this subject than I, because of their assignments on committees, and so forth. Some of them are from coal-mining States and a little closer to the mines than I. That is why I am happy this measure is before this group this morning; for all of you know, as I, even without a background as an expert in the field, the urgent need for the legislation proposed in H. R. 3023.
The Nation was shocked by the disaster of March 25, 1947, when 111 men lost their lives in Centralia coal mine No. 5, at Wamac, Ill. In this mine, the actual location of the explosion was at that time in my district. Under redistricting, it is not now in my district. The opening of the mine was, of course, not in my district. That disaster was close enough to home that I have never forgotten it and I hope my colleagues in Congress will never forget it. Too often men in public life are stirred to a point of action immediately in the wake of a national disaster, only to have their enthusiasm wane as the headlines which aroused them fade into small captions on the inside pages of the newspapers.
It is too bad our legislative processes are so slow on such occasions for I am certain that while the memory of Centralia was still alive legislation such as I propose in H. R. 3023 would have been enacted into law by very close to a unanimous vote.
But it has been 2 years since the disaster at Centralia mine No. 5, so our task in placing this urgent legislation upon the statute books may be a bit more difficult. Yet I remain confident that it will be enacted into law.
I will leave to the experts who will follow me the task of discussing the technical features that would be involved because of the passage of this legislation. I prefer to discuss briefly my reasons for supporting and offering for consideration of this committee and Congress H. R. 3023, a measure designed to put teeth into the Federal mine inspection law.
At this point I would like to state that 32 of my colleagues in the House, who represent the principal coal-producing States in the Nation, have by letter assured me of their support of House Joint Resolution 165, which is identical to H. R. 3023, and I ask that their names be inserted in the record of this hearing.
Mr. KELLEY. Without objection.
SPONSORS OF HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION 165
Harry J. O'Neill, Pennsylvania
James Buckley, Illinois
Mr. PRICE. I introduced this bill because I felt that the Federal Government owes every ounce of protection it can possibly give to the coal miners of this Nation. I concede that the 1941 Federal Mine Inspection Act gives a good measure of protection, but it fails of its objective because, with too many operators, recommendations on safety mean nothing unless power to enforce those recommendations go with them.
Existing Federal laws go only half way in providing the safety precautions this essential national industry demands. Without the authority it needs to enforce its recommendations the Bureau of Mines has no reason to expect any better cooperation from mine operators in the future than it has received in the past—and that cooperation has not been a matter to which the coal industry can point with pride.
In the first 5 years of operations under inspection provisions of the 1941 act, from December 1, 1941, to May 31, 1946, the management's record of compliance was only 25 percent. For the next year, June 1, 1946, to March 24, 1947, it continued at the low rate of 25 percent. It took' the Centralia disaster to make the rate jump to 45 percent from March 25, 1947, to June 30, 1947. But even with the Federal Mine Safety Code—Public Law 328, Eightieth Congress-in effect from July 1, 1947, to June 30, 1948, compliance started to decline and for the period was 41 percent.
Proof enough that the only way in which compliance with recommendations of the Federal mine inspectors can be obtained is through adequate enforcement provisions in the Federal Law. In my opinion, we can expect compliance to continue to go down unless we act now to put teeth into the law.
I urge the members of this committee to study carefully the reports from the United States Bureau of Mines on casualties in the coal industry over the past 10 years. They are the best arguments in favor of this bill.
It was a death toll of 1,500 miners in 1940 that led to the enactment of the existing inspection legislation. But that was not an unusually heavy toll. I have a feeling that if the majority of the Members of Congress understood that it is not unusual for the annual death rate in mines of the Nation to exceed 1,000, and that the annual accident rate is well over 50,000, they would demand an opportunity to enact this legislation.
The record of mine fatalities year after year clearly reflects the laxity of State enforcement and the inadequacies of State safety laws.
Fatalities in coal mines rank next to highest in the major industries, only lumber having a higher rate.
I hope this Congress will give its attention to this most important problem and that it will take the action necessary to make the Federal mine-inspection laws meaningful. H. R. 3023 proposes that a Federal inspector who finds imminent danger in a mine can order immediate shut-down. And I propose that failure to obey a close order would be punishable by a substantial penalty. In my bill I suggest a fine of $500 or imprisonment up to 60 days, or both, but I am inclined to agree with the Bureau of Mine officials who have testified on a companion bill in the Senate that this is too mild a penalty for such a serious offense. I agree to their suggestion stepping up the penalty to a fine of $2,000 or imprisonment of not more than 6 months or both.
The life of a coal miner is constantly in danger. This measure is designed to preserve his health and sa fety, to save him from recurrence of the disasters which annually cost the lives of hundreds. It is a humane measure and certainly merits approval of this Congress.
We need this tightening of mine-inspection laws to save the lives of the men who mine the Nation's coal. The record of lives lostthe crippled and maimed men-are the evidence of the inadequacies in present laws. I hope the mine owners themselves and officials in charge of State mine-regulating agencies will look upon this legislation as an aid in their own efforts to solve the problem of mine sa fety. I feel that they should.
Public Law 49, Seventy-seventh Congress, gave to the mine operators and the miners a vast fund of scientific and engineering information held by the Bureau of Mines. It may have accomplished much in the field of mine safety, but it could have prevented a few of the disasters which have occurred in the past 7 years had the Seventy-seventh Congress given the inspectors the power to enforce their recommendations. We know that now.
I do not suggest that giving the power of enforcement to the inspectors is a cure-all for coal-mine accidents, but it will strengthen the hand of the Federal inspectors in their efforts to eliminate hazards in coal mines. It will end obstinate operators' disregard for safety recommendations.
Federal inspection and investigation of mines, even after putting the teeth into the act to enforce the inspectors' recommendations, cannot or will not bring about elimination of all accidents; but, as time goes by and the activities of the Bureau continue to become more effective with the scientific experimental work, gradual reduction in the accident rate will be apparent.
This is a long step forward and it must be taken. It is long past time for action on the part of Congress, lest the blood of future fatalities be on our hands.
That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Smith. How are you going to resolve the differences between the State and the Federal mine inspectors?
Mr. PRICE. I might say in answer to that, Mr. Smith, that apparently the State and the Federal
mine inspectors have been cooperating very well under the present Federal Mine-Inspection Act. I personally do not think that there would be too much difficulty in resolving any difference.
Mr. Smith. These Federal mine inspectors are appointed by the Federal Bureau of Mines?
Mr. PRICE. The United States Bureau of Mines.
Mr. Price. Their qualifications are much higher than the average qualifications set by the different mining agencies of the State governments. They are required to be mining engineers, and they have other qualifications that are not required of those who are applicants in the States.