MSHA Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson thanks miners on National Miners Day
National Miners Day is Dec. 6. It is a day dedicated to recognizing the skill, commitment and hard work of miners. This year, Mining Engineering (ME) was invited to speak one-on-one with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Assistant Secretary Chris Williamson. Williamson wanted to share his appreciation and gratitude for all miners and all those who work in mining on National Miners Day.
“I want to take this opportunity — whether it’s coal, gold, silver, copper, sand and gravel — or those working in the iron ore range, to say thank you. These are the people who make steel, among so many other things our nation depends on, and miners have done that for decades,” said Williamson.
“There are so many things that our nation depends on that miners help supply. All of that work in the mining industry is a critical part of our nation’s workforce. These are critical parts of our economy, our communities, and our national defense,” said Williamson.
Williamson grew up in southern, West Virginia, and had family members who were miners. “I grew up in a community where mining is not only an important part of the economy — but also the culture and the social fabric of the community,” he said.
“It’s also an opportunity to educate people about the significant contributions that miners make and how a lot of the things we benefit from as a society — and as individuals — come from a mine,” he said.
“In exchange for that — for those that do that work that we all benefit from — they ought to be able to do that in safety and be healthy. That always has to remain our top priority — the safety and health of miners and those who work in mines,” said Williamson.
ME also talked with Williamson about the workforce challenges the mining industry is facing, as well as misperceptions in the mining industry.
“Workforce challenges and issues continue to come up. These are real challenges. From our perspective, MSHA is the agency tasked with protecting miner’s safety and health, and we know there are a number of ways that can filter in and lead to hazards. There has to be awareness with training, especially for newer, less experienced miners. They need to have really good training, not just check the box training. Miners also need to know they have rights to be adequately trained on what they need in the workplace. This is incredibly important,” he said.
Williamson also discussed the fact that mining is an industry undergoing tremendous technological changes. Those interested in technology may be surprised to find that mining is a highly technical field embracing changes and opportunities in technology. This is a common misperception Williamson faces even in the hiring done at MSHA and the Department of Labor. “We see this in recruiting ourselves — how much technology is involved that people may not understand. Mining is a very technical field. Those that are interested in technical fields may not even know that there are opportunities in mining that are technical, and that it would be a good profession to pursue,” he said.
Top efforts at MSHA
Williamson discussed the fact that on the safety side, the mining industry has been experiencing a troubling increase in fatal accidents this year. The leading driver of those seems to be in surface machinery and safety and operations around big equipment on mine sites. “Surface to mobile equipment — our agency is really focused on those issues and is in the final stages of developing a surface to mobile safety program,” he said.
“We are throwing everything we can at this problem — enforcement, training and education.” Williamson sent an open letter to the mining community earlier this year focused on driving these accidents down, and imploring people to work together collaboratively to decrease the troubling rise in mining fatalities.
Another initiative MSHA is currently focused on is on the health side. “Miner’s health is equally as much of a priority as safety.” MSHA is working on protecting miners from respirable diseases caused by silica dust. The agency put out a proposed rule in the summer of 2023 and is working to finalize it. “It is critically important we do that to protect all miners’ health. We know the health hazards and effects of silica are well-documented. The science is solid. There were stop Silicosis campaigns in the 1930s. We know what can happen to miners if they are exposed to this toxic substance over time. It is entirely preventable, and we are working really hard to finalize these laws that will protect and ultimately help miners,” he said.