The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


September 13, 2008

MSHA’s focus on drug, alcohol abuse in mines misplaced

guest column

Working alongside someone who is impaired by drugs or alcohol on the job is not an experience any of us want to have. That is especially true for those who are employed in dangerous occupations like coal mining.

Let me be very clear: The United Mine Workers of America does not want anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol working in America’s coal mines. Our members do not want to work next to an impaired individual, because lives are at stake.

That is why we have worked with many of the companies where we represent workers as they have implemented drug and alcohol testing programs, most recently with Foundation Coal and Consol Energy earlier this year. Those two companies joined the dozens of other coal companies that already have drug and alcohol testing programs in place, including many in West Virginia.

We took these steps because we remain committed to creating the safest and healthiest possible environments in America’s coal mines, and that can’t happen when workers are impaired.

The fact is, the vast majority of coal miners already are tested for drugs and alcohol. Most coal companies have already implemented testing programs, and more are on the way. By the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s own data, 80 percent of coal miners already have to pass pre-employment drug and alcohol screening tests. Seventy-five percent of miners are subject to random testing by their employers, and under current regulations all miners who are working in a section of a mine where a safety incident occurs can automatically be tested for drugs and alcohol.

One could argue that coal miners are already tested for drugs and alcohol at higher rates that any other group of industrial workers in America. Yet reading some of the commentary on this issue, one would think that drug and alcohol abuse in our nation’s coal mines is running rampant. The facts simply don’t support that suggestion.

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