Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act

September 16, 1966

Members of the Congress, Secretary Wirtz, ladies and gentlemen:

The 89th Congress, I am told, has recorded an average of a major bill for every week that Congress has been in session.

This bill--the Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act of 1966--is a very proud addition to this list.

This act closes a very serious gap in our national program to eliminate occupational hazards. It extends Federal health and safety standards to more than a quarter of a million working Americans who earn a living by the sweat of their brows and the strength of their hands.

These men give us the raw materials that are so basic to our economy: iron, copper, uranium ores, sand and gravel, crushed stone, clay, potash, and many other minerals.

But the earth does not yield them up easily. The work is hard, and we all know the work is very dangerous. For too many years this industry has been gravely deficient in its safety practices.

The results are told in terms of human lives and in terms of suffering. In 1965, 181 workers were killed. Nearly 12,000 others-nearly 5 percent of all of those employed in this industry--were injured seriously enough to lose time from their jobs.

I do not believe that such tragedy can be written off just as an "occupational hazard." I do not believe that a man should have to pay with his life or with his health for his right to earn a living for his family.

Since 1914, our Public Health Service has been working trying to protect Americans from health hazards that they discover on the job. Many of these hazards have been greatly reduced. Mass poisonings from lead and mercury, for example, have been virtually eliminated.

But our technology is changing and it is changing with a very fantastic speed. And this change is bringing with it new and hidden threats to our health and to our safety. At least 500 new chemicals are introduced into industry and into agriculture each year. Often they are in use before their side effects are known or have been adequately and fully evaluated.

There is evidence that many chronic diseases often have a direct relationship to the victim's occupation. These chronic diseases include cancer, lung ailments, allergies, and even heart disease. They also include mental and hearing disorders from certain kinds of noise.

A great and advanced nation just cannot allow hazards such as these to go on building up unchecked. I promise you that we are not going to allow them to go on unchecked.

The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare is now conducting a most intensive study of the entire problem of occupational health in this country. That study will determine just what can the Government do:

--First, to isolate and to eliminate the hazards to occupational health that do exist in this country; and

--Second, to test new products and new processes so that we can take steps ahead of time to prevent health hazards before they occur.

As fast as we find the answers to these questions, we are going to apply them with every means at our disposal.

Today, I am very gratified that we are here to take a positive step, to record an achievement toward that goal.

The enactment of this bill will afford far greater protection to at least one important segment of American labor which for many years has been denied sorely needed protection.

We have been talking about protecting them for a long, long time. We are doing something about protecting them today.

Beyond saving the lives and the limbs of many men who labor under the earth, this act will enable wives to rest a little easier when their husbands leave home for work each morning.

And it will enable many children to grow to adulthood with their fathers still living and still earning a livelihood for the entire family.

I congratulate all the Members of Congress who have contributed to this most humanitarian and most worthwhile end. I am grateful that they could be here to observe the signing of what I consider to be a most historic and humane piece of legislation.

Note: The President spoke at 12:11 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz.

As enacted, the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act is Public Law 89-577 (80 Stat. 772).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Federal Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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