1.2 Legislative Foundations1.1 Overview | 1.3 Organizational Structure and Management
The main legislative underpinnings of NIOSH are the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (amended in 1977) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The “Coal Act” was passed in the aftermath of a devastating coal mine explosion that occurred in Farmington, WV in 1968. It took the lives of 78 miners and crystallized public opinion that stronger measures were needed to protect coal miners at work. The Coal Act specified a comprehensive set of preventive measures, including dust exposure limits; frequent mine inspections with fines for noncompliance with safety regulations, respirator approval for use in mines, health screening and job transfer of miners with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, and research. Activities required by the Coal Act were split between the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which engaged in non-regulatory activities such as health screening and research; and the Mine Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) in the Department of the Interior (DOI), which engaged in developing and enforcing workplace safety and health regulations in the mining industry. NIOSH subsequently assumed the health screening and research responsibilities specified under the Coal Act after its creation by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (see below). When the Coal Act was amended in 1977, MESA was replaced by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the Department of Labor.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-596;5 (A1-1) followed closely after the Coal Act. It created both NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is in the Department of Labor and is responsible for developing and enforcing workplace safety and health regulations in industries other than mining.
Information pertaining to the responsibilities of NIOSH are found in Section 22 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 CFR § 671). The Institute is authorized to:
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977 (which superseded the Coal Act of 1969) specified a number of authorities for NIOSH in coal mining health research. The Mine Safety and Health Law authorized NIOSH to:
Mining safety and health remain an ongoing concern of NIOSH. This year, the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006 was enacted in the wake of the Sago Mine explosion. The MINER Act amends the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The act creates regulations enforceable by MSHA to improve accident preparedness and response. The act also specifies that NIOSH create an Office of Mine Safety and Health. The purpose of the office is, “to enhance the development of new mine safety technology and technological applications and to expedite the commercial availability and implementation of such technology in mining environments.” The office is to achieve this purpose through competitive grants, contracts, and by establishing an interagency working group for mine safety.
Thus, Congress has set a clear division between the research function of NIOSH; and the regulatory and enforcement functions of MSHA and OSHA. Although NIOSH works together with MSHA and OSHA to achieve the common goal of protecting worker safety and health, NIOSH simultaneously maintains its unique identity as the sole federal government organization primarily charged to conduct occupational safety and health research.
Through its legislated authorities, NIOSH gathers information, conducts scientific research, and translates the knowledge gained into products and services. The mission of NIOSH is critical to the health and safety of every U.S. worker.