MSHA's Final Rule Still Allows Belt Air

MSHA published a final rule today that requires flame-resistant conveyor belts and other fire protection measures in underground coal mines but still allows operators to use belt air -- ventilating active mining areas by using the shafts through which conveyors move coal to the surface. The United Mine Workers of America wants the practice prohibited, and MSHA has studied the issue for several years. The rule says operators must request MSHA approval of a mine ventilation plan to use the practice.

A technical panel endorsed the continued use of belt air, with care taken to ensure safety, in a Dec. 20, 2007, report.

"This final rule calls for improved, flame-resistant conveyor belts to better protect miners in underground coal mines," Richard E. Stickler, acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in the agency's news release. "It also includes requirements for fire prevention and detection in belt entries, standardized tactile signals on lifelines, and approval of the use of air from the belt entry to ventilate working sections."

The 38-page rule is effective today. It says existing belts must be replaced within 10 years with more flame-resistant belts; smoke sensors must be installed within a year after MSHA approves them; carbon monoxide sensors must replace point-type heat sensors; belt maintenance must be improved (by aligning the belts, replacing damaged rollers, etc.); and lower dust levels are required in belt entries for mines using ventilation air from the belt entry;

MSHA published a second final rule today that will allow two types of alternative refuges within 1,000 feet of the nearest working face in an underground coal mine: pre-fabricated self-contained units and units consisting of 15 psi stoppings, constructed prior to an event in a secure space with an isolated atmosphere. Effective March 2, the rule says operators must provide alternatives to protect miners when a life-threatening event occurs that makes escape impossible. The rule is based partly on a NIOSH report on refuge alternatives, and it implements Section 13 of the MINER Act of 2006.

"This final rule will help reassure coal miners that, should a mine emergency occur that prevents them from escaping, they will have a protected, secure area to sustain them while they await rescue," said Stickler.

Underground coal mine operators must address the location, capability and capacity of refuge alternatives in written Emergency Response Plans. Other refuges currently approved in such plans will be phased out over time.

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