Whitesburg KY

MSHA issues new rules for mine rescue


The nation’s underground coal mines must have better trained and equipped rescue teams an hour away under new rules issued by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“This regulation will help ensure that no matter where or when a mine accident occurs, dedicated men and women will be readily available and properly trained to assist in the rescue of their comrades underground,” acting MSHA director Richard Stickler said in a statement.

The agency says the rules apply to 653 underground coal mines with more than 50,000 employees and contract workers across the country.

The rules are required by a sweeping mine safety law Congress adopted following the deaths of 12 men from an explosion at the Sago Mine in January 2006 and two other high-profile accidents that year that killed seven more West Virginia and Kentucky coal miners.

One of the rules’ key provisions cuts response times for mine rescue teams in half. Mines must have rescue stations located no more than an hour away by ground. Previous rules set a twohour response time.

Each mine also must have two rescue teams and a person familiar with how to respond to a mine emergency present during each shift.

The rules also require teams to practice 96 hours a year, up from 40. MSHA says that practice must include training in smoky conditions, as well as training at mines they serve and participation in two local mine rescue contests annually.

The rules aren’t proving popular with the industry.

“MSHA evidently dismissed most all the revisions proposed by the entire coal community – revisions that would have built more flexibility in how rescue teams and safety training could be strengthened,” National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor said one problem is the original legislation failed to recognize state mine rescue teams. Kentucky historically has relied on rescue teams from the ranks of state inspectors.

“The law ignored that and I think that’s a detriment to safety,” Caylor said. “These are excellent teams. … They’re generally familiar with each mine and they practice a lot. They’re top of the line.”

The rules do, however, allow mines to rely on teams of state mine inspectors. A large mine, for instance, can designate a state-sponsored team as one of two required rescue squads. The other would have to be drawn from mine employees or a socalled composite team with members from several mines that agree to cover each other.

Caylor also wonders how much it will cost to equip and train enough rescuers to meet the rules’ requirement of two teams per mine.

MSHA estimates it will cost the industry $4.8 million annually to relocate five mine rescue stations and add 28, bringing the national total to 120. MSHA says that figure also assumes the formation of 68 new teams, bringing the national total to 213.

The state of West Virginia spent approximately $100,000 apiece to equip two new teams since the Sago accident, though the cost estimate does not include training.

Caylor said setting up a new team costs between $200,000 and $300,000. At the low end of that range, 68 new rescue teams would cost the industry $13.6 million.

“The impact on the small guy is going to be considerable,” Caylor said.

Mine operators have until May 8 to submit statements describing how they plan to provide mine rescue coverage. The rules give mines until Aug. 8 to have a rescue station within one hour of ground travel and to either purchase equipment or submit proof they’ve ordered it.

Separately, MSHA adopted final rules for assessing fines Thursday. The new rules increase three maximum penalties for violating mine safety rules. The maximum fine goes from $60,000 to $70,000, the maximum daily fine rises from $6,500 to $7,500 and the maximum penalty for smoking rises from $275 to $375.

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