Saturday, March 25, 2006

KY Has a New Mine Safety Law

...and they're reading about it all the way to the other UK (United Kingdom), courtesy of AP:

State inspectors will visit every coal mine in Kentucky at least three times a year under legislation passed in the wake of coal mine deaths in West Virginia and Kentucky.

The measure, which received final approval when it passed the Senate on a 37-0 Friday night, also requires that breathing devices be stored in underground escapeways. It allows the state to fine coal companies for safety violations and offers job protections to whistleblowers who expose unsafe mining conditions.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher will sign the bill, spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Post-Gazette Gets Inside Alma Investigation

Dennis Roddy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that investigators in the ongoing investigation of the January 19 West Virginia mine fire that claimed two lives found stoppings gone that should have been there according to the ventilation plan. Roddy cites multiple "sources"; no one's talking on the record. Reportedly:

"The conveyor belt ignited on the morning of Jan. 19, pouring smoke through the gaps in the wall and into the fresh air passageway that the miners were supposed to use for their escape, obscuring their vision and ultimately leading to the death of two of them."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Byrd Reportedly Puts Hold on Stickler Nomination

It's hard to keep up with all the MSHA events, but the Courier-Journal's Jim Carroll is trying. He recently had some notes from the Washington front including the following:

"[Senator Robert]Byrd last week put a hold on the nomination of Richard Stickler as the new head of MSHA. That means the full Senate can't vote on Stickler until Byrd decides otherwise.....

"Until I know that Mr. Stickler will make safety job No. 1 at MSHA, I will not allow his nomination to move forward," Byrd said.

Byrd, a senior senator from the nation's second-largest coal-producing state, has never met Stickler. Byrd said he wanted a meeting with Stickler to discuss his concerns, but nothing happened before the Senate left Thursday for a weeklong break.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Indiana Story

WHTR-TV has a lengthy piece on the Indiana state government's failure to do any mine inspections.

Two days after the West Virginia coal mining accident that killed 12 miners in January, a clear directive went out from Miguel Rivera, Indiana's commissioner of labor. In a letter to John Alaria, the deputy commissioner of the bureau of mines, Rivera wrote: "I am instructing you to commence inspection at each of the underground commercial coal mines in Indiana."

The state decided to "commence" inspections because, as an Eyewitness News investigation found, state officials hadn't inspected a single one of Indiana's seven underground coal mines for at least a year - a violation of state law.
Rivera said the state had concentrated on training and mine rescue.

"I made that call," state Department of Labor Commissioner Miguel Rivera told Eyewitness News....

...State law also requires the bureau of mines to have both a director and a chief mine inspector, but for most of the last year, the bureau has had only one employee - [John] Alaria.

Rivera said the department's budget wouldn't allow for the hiring of a second employee, but Alaria was filling both roles.
Alaria has now quit, the station reported.

The state has a $177,442 grant from MSHA to herlp support its miner training program administered through a public college.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Just got back from MSHA's all-day session to hear about technology for communication and tracking in mine emergencies, which they held at the National Press Club. Daily press people I saw included AP, Courier-Journal, Pittsburg Post-Gazette. It was too bad that, so far as I could see, those folks were not there after the lunch break, and so apparently didn't get to hear remarks by several mine rescue team members who were responders at the Sago emergency. MSHA acting chief David Dye also departed at halftime.

Mty mind is slightly boggled by the technical side at the moment. (Slightly? Let's say confused but confident of getting it right with some followup calls.)

The human side is easier to read. The mine rescue team members, from CONSOL's Blacksville No. 2, Robinson Run, and Loveridge Mine were still obviously shaken from their experience and, among all the speakers, were the one that got applause from the audience. They have definite ideas about how to do better and not all involve technology. For instance, comments by two indicated some teams had trouble getting past checkpoints at Sago, and an ID system for teams could help with that. They also are asking to help test the technology in actual mines. By the way, they had high praise for gtheir company's training and support for the teams.

The rescue team members thought some of the technical presentations were unrealistic. Of some proposed components, "a little bit of plastic" isn't going to survive an explosion, one said. Bottom line from these guys on technology: some of the "out there" ideas aren't going to work, but technology does exist that could be used now or within a pretty short time, and they want action taken.

Company officials from Arch and Peabody talked about systems they've used. Underground systems of course are vulnerable to damage, but they said surface anternnas (which can work just as well) have been a problem due to rough terrain and property rights, among other things.

Then there were the firms with products to show, and quite a few more folks with an interest in this area. Most discussion was on wireless or partially wireless ommunication underground and this is where I have to hit the books to make sense of it. There's even a, get this, bomb-proofing paint, which someone was discussing informally during a break, which might remotely be of use in hardening components or facilities.

Anyway, too much to digest here, but will be writing it up for MS&HNews.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Stickler for Mine Safety

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions yesterday approved Richard M. Stickler to head MSHA on a strict party-line vote, according to an AP story in the Courier-Journal.

His approval by the full Senate seems like a shoo-in.

Stickler's nomination was equally divisive with stakeholders: industry groups that spoke about the nomination were supportive, while the UMWA and AFL-CIO were strongly opposed.

Stickler headed Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety from 1997 to 2003, when he retired. Before that, he worked his way up through the ranks in BethEnergy's coal mines. He also spent two years with Massey subsidiary Performance Coal.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

MSHA's Temporary Emergency Standard Hits the Street

MSHA has posted its awaited Temporary Emergency Standard intended to help prevent more Sagos and Almas. It's only on open file at the Federal Register right now but due for pubication on Thursday, at which time it will take effect.

The actual requirements start on page 96 of the 111 page document. (Link is on MSHA's home page.)

To be fair: The reason for that, and contributing to the length of time this rule has taken, is largely the procedures imposed by various laws, regulations, executive orders and the OMB that any federal agency has to comply with in order to put out any new rule, however urgent or obvious. (The growth of such requirements in another story, but they largely began with the National Environmental Policy Act, enacted in 1969.)

Some highlights of the ETS:

§ 50.10 Immediate notification.

If an accident occurs, an operator shall immediately
contact the MSHA District Office having jurisdiction over
its mine. If an operator cannot contact the appropriate
MSHA District Office, it shall immediately contact the MSHA
Headquarters Office in Arlington, Virginia by telephone, at(800) 746-1553. The operator shall contact MSHA as
described at once without delay and within 15 minutes.
If communications are lost because of an emergency or other
unexpected event, the operator shall notify MSHA at once
without delay and within 15 minutes of having access to a
telephone or other means of communication.

§ 75.1714-4 Additional Self-Contained Self-Rescuers.

(a) In addition to the requirements in §§ 75.1714, 75.1714-
1, 75.1714-2, and 75.1714-3, the mine operator shall
provide for each person who is underground at least one
additional SCSR device,
which provides protection for a
period of one hour or longer, to cover all persons in the

c) When the SCSR devices otherwise required by paragraph
(a) of § 75.1714 are not adequate to provide enough oxygen
for all persons to safely evacuate the mine under mine
emergency conditions, the mine operator shall provide
additional SCSR devices in the primary and alternate

(e) A sign made of reflective material with the words
“SELF-RESCUERS” shall be conspicuously posted at each
storage location and direction signs made of a reflective
material shall be posted leading to each storage location.

§ 75.380 Escapeways; bituminous and lignite mines.

(d) 7) Provided with a continuous directional lifeline or
equivalent device
that shall be:

(i) Installed and maintained throughout the entire
length of each escapeway
as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of
this section.

(ii) Made of durable material.

(iii) Marked with a reflective material every 25 feet.

(iv) Located in such a manner for miners to use
effectively to escape.

(v) Equipped with directional indicators, signifying
the route of escape, placed at intervals not exceeding 100

(vi) Securely attached to and marked to show the
location of any SCSR storage locations in the escapeways.

75.1502 Mine emergency evacuation and firefighting
program of instruction.

(c) Mine emergency evacuation drills. Each operator of an
underground coal mine shall require all miners to
participate in mine emergency evacuation drills.

(1) Mine emergency evacuation drills shall be held at
periods of time so as to ensure that all miners participate
in such evacuations at intervals of not more than 90 days.

(2) For purposes of this paragraph (c), a mine emergency
evacuation drill means that the miner shall travel the
primary or alternate escapeway, from the working section or
the miner’s work station, to the surface or the exits at
the bottom of the shaft or slope. An evacuation drill
shall not be conducted in the same escapeway as the
immediately preceding drill.

Public hearings in April will give everyone a chance to weigh in on whether these rules should be permanent.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Video Link

Here's a video link to the mine safety hearing on Wednesday.

Things suddenly got heated at the end when Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., wanted a second round of questions and subcommittee chairman Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., said no.

Miller can be heard saying, "This is b******t," and Norwood, responding, "When you get in charge you get to run the d**m thing..."