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Three mine accidents shine light on safety during shutdown

In a recent post we discussed whether or not government cuts could potentially lead to workplace injuries in Pennsylvania and around the country. Now, in light of the government shutdown we are seeing an extreme example of how reductions in workforces can have very serious consequences for workers. 

Over the past week there were three separate and unrelated mine accidents that led to three fatalities. Officials noted that such a pattern was an unusual event that had not occurred for more than a decade. One federal mine safety official said that the fatalities were "very troubling" and questioned the safety practices of the mines where these accidents took place. 

It is not clear at this time whether the government shutdown and the furlough of federal workplace safety inspectors has had any impact on the situation at mines in Pennsylvania or at the mines where these accidents occurred. 

Officials say that private companies have been paying attention to safety during the shutdown and that mine inspectors have remained present despite the uncertainty of future funding. 

It is important to note that one of the aspects to determining "essential" government functions are those that protect human safety. In this situation, workplace and mine safety are certainly functions of the government that are essential to preventing injuries and workplace deaths.

Workers have a right to a safe environment even while the government shutdown persists. This means that they should still report unsafe conditions and continue to insist that employers find a way to protect employees or eliminate the hazard. 

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Coal-Mining Accidents Kill Three in Three Days," Kris Maher, Oct. 7, 2013. 

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