PITTSBURGH — A hand-fabricated metal chime will ring out here on April 28, Workers Memorial Day, tolling for workers killed on the job starting with two miners who died April 17 in Barton, Md.

Mike Wilt, 37, married, awaiting the birth of another child, and Dale Jones, 52, a beloved baseball coach, were buried alive beneath a 150-foot wall of boulders and dirt that collapsed on them. The miners worked at Tri-Star Mining Inc.’s Job No. 3 strip mine, owned by George Beener. Wilt ran a bulldozer and Jones operated a backhoe.

Crushed to death

According to Bob Cornett, acting district manager for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the men died instantly. He based his observation on the extensive damage to the equipment. After removing thousands of tons of rock and debris, rescuers, including a team from MSHA and local firefighters, uncovered the bulldozer and backhoe, side by side, right side up. But, the tracks that propelled the backhoe had been blown sideways and the blade completely torn off the bulldozer.

MSHA records show that since April 2004, Tri-Star Inc. had been cited eight times for safety violations, including inadequate brakes on trucks, and fined $597. The most recent inspection began on March 5 and no citations have been issued.

In 2006, 51 miners at Tri-Star produced 653,000 tons of coal worth $26.12 million. Miners are paid $12 an hour and are nonunion.

Last year was a deadly year for the men and women who keep the lights on, starting with the Sago disaster and ending with 47 miners dead. Through mid-April, six died mining coal so far this year.

OSHA could save lives

Across the country, workers and their families will gather for Workers Memorial Day, honoring the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over 30 years ago. The AFL-CIO recently released its annual report on workplace safety, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.” While numbers do not begin to describe the surviving families’ tragedies of parents going to work and not returning home, the numbers in the report are staggering. In 2005, 5,702 workers were killed on the job, 4.2 million were injured and 50,000 died due to occupational diseases.

The AFL-CIO credits the change in Congress with reducing the threat of hostile, anti-worker proposals, but the federation quickly points out, “With President Bush still in office, major advancements in protecting workers will be difficult. The Bush administration has the worst record on safety rules in OSHA’s entire history, issuing no new significant rules during its first term.”

This is especially important because of the breakthroughs in medical research and engineering for the prevention of deaths and disease, including cancer.

The labor federation is fighting for a new rule that would protect low-wage, especially immigrant workers, by requiring companies to provide safety equipment at no charge to workers. The AFL-CIO is in court to get workers the gloves, masks, shoes and other vitally necessary gear that protects their lives and health paid for by the companies.

Putting profits before worker safety

Early in the Bush administration, Republicans joined with business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to repeal ergonomic standard. In the last five years, tens of thousands of workers have been injured by heavy lifting or repetitive motion because of the administration/corporate action.

Extending OSHA protections to an additional 8.5 million workers, including flight attendants and state and local workers, is another change the AFL-CIO is struggling to achieve.

Since 2001, Republicans have slashed OSHA’s budget, including enforcement, by 6 percent or $25.4 million — about 1 year’s profits at Tri-State’s relatively small strip mine operations in Western Maryland, near the well mined area of George’s Creek.

The impact of cutting the budget for inspectors translates to a total of 19 OSHA inspectors for the entire state of Alabama, which has 63,200 workplaces, for instance. It would take 19 inspectors, smaller than a high school football team, 137 years to inspect each workplace once. In 2005, 128 Alabama workers died on the job.

dwinebr696 @ aol.com