Two New MSHA Rules Affect Coal Mine Rescues

Congress returned to work this week from its August recess wanting to know what MSHA will do to prevent a repeat of the Aug. 6 Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Utah. Six miners trapped that day could not be reached, and three rescuers died Aug. 17 -- including an MSHA inspector. MSHA chief Richard Stickler appointed an agency investigative team on Aug. 30 that is headed by Richard A. Gates, MSHA's district manager in Birmingham, Ala.

On Sept. 6, two days after U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., wrote to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao seeking all documents relating to MSHA's rescue efforts, MSHA issued two new rules affecting coal mine rescues. MSHA will hold four public hearings on them. The first rule will require coal mine operators to make two certified rescue teams available; it sets criteria for certifying the qualifications of rescue teams; requires rescue team members to be available at the mine within one hour of the mine rescue station; and increases required training for rescue team members from 40 to 64 hours annually. Several other elements are covered, including that rescue team members must have practical experience as an underground coal miner or member of a mine rescue team to serve, and also they must participate in training at each mine serviced by the team and have knowledge of the operations and ventilation at the mine. They must participate annually in two local mine rescue contests.

The second rule addresses mine rescue team equipment and applies to underground coal and metal and nonmetal mines. It will require two additional hours of breathable air from their SCSRs and also gas detectors to measure potentially dangerous gases. The public hearings will be held beginning at 9 a.m. local time Oct. 23 in Salt Lake City; Oct. 25 in Lexington, Ky.; Oct. 30 in Charleston, W.Va.; and Nov. 1 in Birmingham.

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