S-MINER Act Set for House Vote Wednesday

The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee’s chairman, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., hasn't been idle during these early days of January. He announced Jan. 11 that the full House will vote Jan. 16 on his S-MINER Act, a bill that would push MSHA to hasten mines' improvement of evacuation systems and force another study of the belt air issue. Miller and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, another California Democrat who chairs the Worker Protections Subcommittee, also sent a letter Jan. 10 to OSHA's Ed Foulke saying the agency has to act now to update the Process Safety Management standard.

The act is H.R. 2768, the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, which would direct MSHA to study the threat to mine safety of lightning (blamed for the Crandall Canyon mine disaster last year), make permanent the agency's temporary rule strengthening mine seals, limit use of belt air, create a miner ombudsman’s office, and randomly sample self-contained self rescuers to ensure they work properly. An analysis of the act is posted at http://edlabor.house.gov/publications/SMinerSummary0108.pdf.

The letter to Foulke says the T2 Laboratories explosion Dec. 19, 2007, in Jacksonville in which four workers died and a dozen were injured "appears to be a classic example of the inadequacy of the current PSM standard." The standard does not cover metallic sodium, which was the substance involved in the blast – described by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board as one of the most powerful explosions it has ever investigated. CSB considers the PSM standard inadequate to control reactive hazards and in 2002 recommended updating it; the letter says OSHA should have acted on the recommendation by now. "Because of the continuing uncontrolled hazards of reactive chemicals, revising the Process Chemical Safety standard to cover reactive hazards should be a high priority of OSHA, and I strongly urge you to act now," the letter concludes.

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