Mine safety

When disasters strike, rescue workers and aid providers aren't the only ones who step up their activity. Politicians also react to calamities that cause death and property destruction.

In some instances, legislative remedies are indeed needed -- an unfortunate consequence of corporate strategies that cut corners and put the safety of workers at risk.

The U.S. Senate acted swiftly last week to impose more safety requirements on underground coal mines in the wake of recent tragedies that have cost several miners' lives. The thrust of the proposed legislation is to require mines to store more oxygen underground that could be used in the event of an explosion or anything else that might trap miners.

Miners have been pressing Congress to pass more safety requirements, an indication that mine owners are reluctant to do so on their own. But the fact remains that in virtually every recent mine accident, existing safety requirements had been ignored.

Requiring mines to stockpile a two-hour supply of oxygen, up from the current requirement of a one-hour supply, might help in some situations, but not in cases where rescuers need days to reach trapped miners. And if mine owners are going to continue to ignore the basic safety needs of miners, new legislation may not be the answer.

Miners know what they need. They also know when their employers aren't providing adequate safety measures. What miners are able to do is force their employers to act responsibly.