COVID-19 pandemic: Bipartisan bill would direct MSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard

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Washington — Bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the Senate would require the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard within seven days of enactment, followed by the issuance of a final rule.

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act (S. 3710) – introduced May 13 by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) – would forbid mine operators from retaliating against mine workers who report infection control problems to employers or any public authority.

According to May 14 press release from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the bill’s seven co-sponsors, the legislation also would require:

  • Mine operators to provide workers with personal protective equipment.
  • MSHA to issue a permanent comprehensive infectious disease standard within two years.
  • MSHA to track, analyze and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infection data – in coordination with OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – to make recommendations and guidance to protect workers.

“Miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” Brown said in the release. “Now they’re facing more danger, as working conditions put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.”

MSHA says it has received a “high volume” of questions about COVID-19. In response, the agency published an information sheet with recommendations for miners and mine operators to help prevent the spread of the disease, along with a list of actions MSHA has taken during the ongoing pandemic.

Miners and mine operators are encouraged to stay home when sick, avoid close contact with others, wash hands frequently, and regularly clean and disinfect equipment and commonly touched surfaces.

The bill – co-sponsored by five other Senate Democrats and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on May 13.