The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is reporting increases in the number of miners who have filed discrimination complaints after reporting safety violations.

Federal law protects miners who report unsafe working conditions to employers, or refuse to work until the problem is fixed. But Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main says that after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia two years ago, it was obvious many miners were afraid to exercise their rights.

“It was clear that miners who worked at that mine were intimidated and did not exercise the rights that they had under the Mine Act,” Main said. “We needed to do more to both educate them and to be there to provide representation to those who did use those rights.”

Main says MSHA has ramped up efforts to educate miners about their rights, as well as investigate discrimination complaints and temporarily reinstate miners during the investigation.

“So you have both the education side and the investigatory side that we’re looking harder at these cases as well,” he said. “But at the end of the day, if miners believe there’s going to be an agency looking out on their behalf, they’re more apt to pursue these kinds of cases.”

In the past three years, MSHA has filed 70 complaints alleging mine safety discrimination—nearly double the number filed from 2007 to 2009. The number of requests for temporary reinstatements more than tripled over the same time period.