Statement by the President Upon Signing an Amendment to the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act.
I HAVE today signed S. 1310, a bill relating to the prevention of major disasters in coal mines.
This measure is a significant step in the direction of preventing the appalling toll of death and injury to miners in underground mines. These totally unnecessary and preventable accidents result in grief-stricken families as well as a shocking loss and waste of skilled manpower.
Under Public Law 49, 77th Congress, the Secretary of the Interior has been authorized to inspect coal mines to the end of making them safer places in which to work. In reporting on their inspections of coal mines, the Federal coal mine inspectors have recommended measures to correct unsafe conditions and practices, but there has been no authority to enforce these recommendations. Disaster has, in many instances, followed in the wake of repeated and unheeded warnings of impending danger.
S. 1310 will, in part, correct this situation. The measure seeks to help prevent major disasters in coal mines from five causes-explosion, fire, inundation, man-trip, or man-hoist accidents. Nevertheless, the legislation falls short of the recommendation I submitted to the Congress to meet the urgent problems in this field. In particular, the bill has the following deficiencies:
1. Coal mines in which less than 15 persons are regularly employed underground are exempted from compliance with any of the mine safety provisions regardless of whether a major disaster might be imminent. This exempts a large group of mines, many of which are hazardous and need a great deal of safety improvement. Inspections of these mines will continue under the earlier statute, but compliance with recommendations of the Federal inspectors will be on a purely voluntary basis.
2. The provisions of the legislation are directed solely toward the prevention of major disasters from the five causes mentioned heretofore. Such disasters accounted for only approximately 7 percent of the coal mine fatalities during the past 20 years. The broad phase of accident prevention in general remains the responsibility of the States in which coal is mined, despite the record to date indicating either the inability or unwillingness of the States to meet this responsibility.
3. The legislation contains several exemptions to the safety provisions particularly with regard to replacement of dangerous electrical equipment and faulty ventilation systems which have been the causes of most recent major disasters. I am advised that these exemptions were provided to avoid any economic impact on the coal mining industry, but they are so worded that the unsafe conditions and practices could continue for years before the mines would be required to comply with the law.
4. The measure contains complex procedural provisions relating to inspections, appeals, and the postponing of orders which I believe will make it exceedingly difficult if not impossible for those charged with the administration of the act to carry out an effective enforcement program. I believe that it is possible to draft simpler and more effective procedural provisions which would not adversely affect the rights of any of the parties concerned with the prevention of mine injuries and deaths.
5. The measure vests the mine safety enforcement functions directly in the Director of the Bureau of Mines. This violates the principle now established for most executive departments that functions should be vested in the department head in order to provide the flexibility of organization and clear lines of authority and accountability essential for effective administration.
I consider it my duty to point out these defects so that the public will not be misled into believing that this legislation is a broad gauge accident prevention measure. We will do our very best to prevent mining disasters with the authority granted in this bill but the Congress eventually will have to meet its responsibility for enacting legislation which provides tools fully adequate to prevent the great loss of life and the thousands of crippling injuries due to mine accidents.
Note: As enacted, S. 1310 is Public Law 552, 82d Congress (66 Stat. 692).
Harry S Truman, Statement by the President Upon Signing an Amendment to the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231195