By Joseph A. Main
Today, we celebrate the fourth annual National Miners Day. In 2009, Congress proclaimed that each Dec. 6 would be recognized in remembrance of the 1907 Monongah coal mine disaster, which resulted in the deaths of 362 miners and became the worst industrial accident in American history.
The proclamation designates this date: "in appreciation, honor and remembrance of the accomplishments and sacrifices of the miners of our Nation; and encourages the people of the United States to participate in local and national activities celebrating and honoring the contributions of miners."
American miners play a much larger role in our lives than most people realize. They extract a variety of raw materials, such as coal, copper, phosphate, silver, limestone, iron and zinc — ores that are essential components in the products we use every day.
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Coal, and the electricity generated by coal power, play prominent roles in our homes, businesses and communities. Miners produce the gravel, crushed stone, tar, asphalt, road salt and cement used to build the roads we travel on and to make them safer. The bridges we build to span canyons and rivers are built with rock and mineral products produced by miners.
Gold, silver and copper wiring, ceramic insulators and silicon processing and memory chips are essential components in electronics that we use daily, such as smartphones, computers and televisions.
Thousands of everyday consumer goods are made with the fundamental materials secured from the hard work of miners. They range from cosmetics to toothpaste, from cookware and dinnerware to appliances.
American miners work every day to provide the necessities of life. They deserve protection on the job from workplace hazards that have killed tens of thousands and injured hundreds of thousands of miners throughout our history.
We are making progress. In 1907, the same year as the Monongah disaster, 3,000 miners died in tragic accidents. Fatalities numbering in the thousands were not uncommon during the first years of the 20th century.
These numbers decreased to about 140 in the 1970s due in large part to the passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The 1977 Act created the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Department of Labor to oversee the safety and health of miners.
Thirty-five years later, we have seen the lowest fatality rate in this nation's history. And, through the "End Black Lung — Act Now" initiative and other occupational health efforts, we are making progress in limiting miners' exposure to respirable dust and other harmful contaminants.
While more needs to be done to prevent death, injury and illness in the nation's mines, our efforts and collaboration with labor and industry stakeholders are showing positive results.
We will continue to work hard to send miners home safe and healthy at the end of every shift. On this National Miners Day, we honor their contributions and thank them for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of this nation. We hope the American people will join us in commemorating this day of recognition.