In Iowa’s Interest: Keeping Our Workers Safe Print
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Monday, 03 May 2010 08:32
In the wake of the West Virginia coal mining disaster that killed 29 miners, the blast on a Louisiana oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico that most likely killed 11 workers and so many other work related tragedies, we are painfully reminded that we must pay more attention to the safety of American workers.  Every day folks across Iowa go to work in factories and at facilities that are quite simply, dangerous workplaces. 

As the son of an Iowa coal miner, I feel for these workers and their families, on a very personal level.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families and coworkers of those killed, injured or missing because of these awful tragedies.  One of the best ways we can honor their memory is to renew our efforts to protect workers’ lives and improve safety and health in our country’s coal mines and other dangerous workplaces.

This past week in Washington, I held a hearing on the very subject of what Congress needs to do to improve worker safety and create a culture of compliance at mines and other dangerous workplaces.  Our Senate hearing was held on April 27, the eve of Worker’s Memorial Day – a day that is set aside to remember the thousands of brave men and women who die on the job in our country each year. 

Certainly, the history of the American workplace suggests that when we focus our efforts, we have the ability to make great strides to improve safety and health.  Since passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act and Occupational Safety and Health Act four decades ago, countless lives have been saved and the number of workplace accidents has been dramatically reduced.  Yet we still have a long way to go.

In addition to putting real teeth in our safety and health laws, we have to make sure that our federal agencies have the enforcement tools they need to identify mines and non-mine workplaces with the worst safety records in the country and hold these repeat offenders accountable.  We have provisions in our laws that are supposed to target repeat offenders, but these special rules are often rendered ineffective – either weakened through mistaken interpretation, or undermined by employers who will go to great lengths to game the system.  This broken system must be fixed.

As we move forward, I plan to do everything I can in Congress to ensure that Iowa’s – and our nation’s - sons and daughters, moms and dads, brothers and sisters all come home safe from a hard day’s work.  We should not rest until these recent work related tragedies are a chapter in the history books, and we no longer have any need to observe a day of mourning for American workers killed on the job.

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