Millions of workers go to work each day in coal mines where they are exposed to some form of coal dust all day long which puts them in danger as the dust is hazardous to their lungs. Most of these employees were provided with dust masks for their protection and told the masks would prevent them from breathing in the hazardous coal dust. Employees believed these statements of safety and relied on the masks to protect them from the deadly Black Lung disease. Unfortunately, many of these masks failed to meet the standards required for coal dust exposure; although they efficiently trapped the larger particles of coal dust, the smaller—and much more hazardous—coal dust particles traveled through the mask, settling deep into the lungs of the employees. What this means is that the majority of coal miners were exposed to dangerous levels of coal dust for literally decades, causing them to develop serious or fatal diseases. When these miners began speaking up for their health, they found they were seriously discriminated against, or even let go from their job.
Many miners have had their jobs reinstated after they filed discrimination charges against their employers. These miners were suspended, laid off, discharged or had other adverse action taken against them as a direct result of their black lung illness which was brought on by their work in the mine. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 ensures miners cannot be let go from their job or discriminated against in any way simply because they have filed a complaint that alleges health or safety violations in the workplace. Miners have the right under this Act to refuse to work under such conditions. Miners are given the right to a safe workplace as well as the right to identify hazardous working conditions without fear of retribution or discrimination.
The Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster
The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster which occurred in April of 2010 in Raleigh County, West Virginia, took the lives of 29 miners and is considered the worst in the United States since 1970. An investigation would later find that blatant safety violations on the part of Massey Energy was responsible for the explosion and the Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 369 citations and assessed Massey Energy $10.8 million in fines. At this juncture there remain investigations into potential personal criminal liability. This particular explosion brought to light many issues regarding miners’ fears of retribution and discrimination and their reluctance to speak out regarding flagrant safety violations in their workplace.
Black Lung Benefits Act
The Black Lung Benefits Act makes it possible for miners stricken with Black Lung Disease to receive monthly payments and reimbursed medical treatments for those miners who are disabled due to the disease. Miners may also be entitled to receive compensation based on the number of their dependents and survivors of those miners who died due to Black Lung Disease may be eligible for specific payments. Both current and former coal miners including those who were involved in the construction of coal mines or in the coal transportation industry—if they were exposed to coal dust in the course of their employment—may be eligible for benefits. Surviving dependents are also entitled to file claims for Black Lung benefits. The Act will cover medical, surgical, hospital and nursing care, rehabilitation treatment as well as drug and any equipment expenses.
If you work in the coal mine industry and feel you have been discriminated against because you spoke out against safety hazards you should consult an attorney who has experience in this area and who can speak out on your behalf and help you through this difficult time. In any industry, seeking professional advice in case of discrimination will be the first right thing to do.