Final Rule Ups Underground Coal Mines' Rescue Requirements

MSHA today issued its final rule setting new requirements for underground coal mines' rescue teams. The rule's text (www.msha.gov/REGS/FEDREG/FINAL/2008finl/08-551.asp) explains in detail comments received and indicates MSHA for the most part retained the language of its proposed rule, which it issued Sept. 6, 2007. By May 8, 2008, the operators of all 653 mines covered by the rule must send a statement to their MSHA district manager describing how they will provide mine rescue coverage as required; by Aug. 8, 2008, every mine must have a mine rescue station located no more than one hour's ground travel time from the mine. If equipment is not readily available, the operator must have purchase orders for the required equipment.

Also by Aug. 8, operators must have a responsible person knowledgeable about mine emergency response who has completed the course of instruction in mine emergency response prescribed by MSHA. By Nov. 10, 2008, each operator of a large mine must have either an individual mine-site team or a composite team as one of its certified rescue teams. Mine rescue team members must have completed 96 hours of annual training, including participation in two local mine rescue contests and training at each covered mine; the current requirement is 40 hours of training, and the September 2007 proposed rule called for 64 hours. The rule says each operator must make two certified mine rescue teams available. All of this implements Section 4 of the MINER Act of 2006.

The rule's text states that these 653 underground coal mines employ 42,597 miners and 8,250 non-office contractors. Only 13 of the mines have more than 500 employees, while 220 of them have fewer than 20 workers. The 653 mines' combined annual revenue is $13.7 billion, and their combined cost to comply with the new rule is $4.8 million, or $7,400 per mine on average, the rule states.

This rulemaking brought to light the special conditions under which anthracite miners work; MSHA's rule notes that these miners generally use hand tools, not mechanization, and the mines may not have electrical power. The average underground anthracite mine employs four miners, and in the past 20 years, no more than one mine rescue team has been needed in the anthracite region for rescue and recovery activities, the rule states, adding that no more than three rescue team members have entered a working place at the same time during such activities.

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