Last Monday, the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced that it would no longer need COVID-19 immunizations or weekly testing for mine workers who are already protected by current safety and health measures.
Earlier this month, Vice President Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a separate Labor Department bureau, was working on an emergency rule that would require companies with 100 or more employees to establish vaccine mandates or alternative requirements for weekly testing every two weeks or two months instead. It does not apply to MSHA or any mining activities in any case. This was confirmed by Jeannette Galanis, deputy assistant secretary of the agency, during a conference call yesterday. MSHA may use enforcement methods that are not accessible to OSHA because of the Mine Act, which she said is one of the world’s most onerous regulations protecting workers.
Since the epidemic’s beginning, MSHA has been unwilling to adopt an emergency regulation to safeguard miners against COVID-19. MSHA provided optional recommendations for mine employees and operators in March, one year after the epidemic started (E&E News PM, March 10). There was no response from the United Mine Workers of America, the organization representing coal miners, on MSHA’s decision not to publish a standard for the COVID-19 vaccination. As for the United Steelworkers, they didn’t respond to a request for comment.
According to MSHA, the goal is to reduce the number of mine worker deaths. In the United States, 27 miners have died on the job so far this year, and that number will rise to 29 in 2020. Vehicle accidents, such as those involving surface trucks and trains, have been the most prevalent cause of fatality. This month, MSHA suggested a regulation to avoid incidents of this kind (Greenwire, September 8). According to the Labor Department’s inspector general, coal dust contains silica, a carcinogen (Greenwire, November 17, 2020). Despite the lack of a deadline, it was a “high priority of our agency.”‘
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Mining unions in Queensland, Australia, are protesting BHP’s intention to exclude unvaccinated employees from mines beginning next year, citing the possibility of legal action.
There are worries that illnesses may rise once governments open up; thus, the mining giant said on Thursday that personnel and visitors must be vaccinated entirely before entering sites and offices starting January 31. Union head of the Queensland mining industry Stephen Smyth noted that the union did not endorse this decision and examined its “legal consequences.” “Genuine consultation with the workforce,” he demanded, adding that union concerns included treating casuals and contractors fairly, supporting workers with a genuine medical exemption, and providing paid time off for workers who needed to get vaccinated or were suffering from vaccine-related side effects.”
When it comes to obligatory vaccination, employees may be comfortable that the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Queensland secretary Rohan Webb will stand out for their rights since he represents mine site maintenance workers. Meanwhile, we’re in touch with other unions in the mining industry and are seeking legal counsel to help us deal with BHP’s decision.
Due to the increased potential of outbreaks in the state due to the government’s reopening plans, BHP will set the first-dose deadline of November 10 for NSW workers. Victoria’s employers will also follow the state government’s immunization rules for authorized employees.
It was decided after a “thorough evaluation of [BHP’s] COVID-19 health and safety measures,”
According to an internal email sent to workers, “we expect a comparable rise in the viral dissemination in the community within the weeks to follow,” as other nations have seen.
As a result, “unvaccinated persons will have a higher chance of contracting COVID-19, making it more difficult for us to safeguard our families, our workplaces, and our local communities in the years to come.”