MSHA: Stand Down for Safety

Following a rise in fatalities, MSHA wants miners to take a few minutes before each shift to talk about safety.

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Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Dave D. Lauriski wants miners in the United States to "stand down for safety." A recent rise in mining accidents prompted Lauriski to ask mine operators and miners to take a brief time-out to think about safety.

"We''re asking mine managers and foremen to take a brief time out at the beginning of each work shift to discuss the recent accidents," Lauriski said. "We want to reach every miner on every shift in our nation''s mines. We''ve come too far in mine safety already to let this turn into a trend."

Lauriski is concerned about the recent increase in fatal accidents. Although most of the country heard about the fatal explosion at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 Mine near Brookwood, Ala., that claimed the lives of 13 coal miners in September, an additional four coal mine fatalities occurred during one 10-day period in August. In one recent week, two fatalities and a very serious injury occurred in metal and nonmetal mining.

"Our hearts grieve for the families of the miners who have lost their lives," Lauriski commented. "We will provide all the technical help we can, and we conduct an investigation of each accident to find out what went wrong. At the same time we''re asking each person in the whole mining community to stop, focus on safety and ask what can they can do every day to prevent a tragedy."

MSHA is mailing out packets of safety information for discussion at mines as well as posting information on the "stand down for safety" page on its Web site at www.msha.gov. Information on each mining fatality is available on the MSHA website under "Fatality Information."

Until the Brookwood, Ala., explosion, 19 coal miners had died on the job so far this year, compared with 29 at the same time last year. In metal and nonmetal mining, 22 miners have lost their lives so far this year compared with 38 as of this time last year.

At the Jim Walter mine, the investigation continues. Ray McKinney, a 25-year veteran of MSHA who has headed up a number of other mine accident investigations and recovery operations, was asked to head MSHA''s nine-member team at the mine.

Since the day of the explosions, MSHA personnel have maintained an ongoing presence at the mine site. They''ve set up a command center to monitor ongoing conditions and accompany mine rescue teams underground in their efforts to recover Jim Walter #5.

"First and foremost, our immediate goal is to recover the bodies of the 12 men who remain inside the mine," said Lauriski.

Yesterday, Lauriski discussed the steps taken by the rescue team in their efforts to reach the victims. So far, they''ve pumped millions of gallons of water into the mine, sealed off mined-out areas, adjusted ventilation controls and conducted gas tests. "At every step of the way," he emphasized, "the safety of these teams has been our primary consideration."

Lauriski also discussed the three most important phases of the investigation, which are ongoing:

  • Collection of information - Includes mine record books, maps, fan charts and other information that will allow MSHA to reconstruct the events prior to the explosion.
  • In-mine visit - The investigation team entered the mine Saturday and collected 340 coal dust and rock dust samples, which they are examining for the direction and the extent of the explosive forces.
  • Interview process - Interviews began yesterday with miners.

MSHA''s accident investigation team, assembled by Lauriski just days after the explosion occurred, has been steadily gathering background information, taking rock dust samples and preparing maps of the recovered area in their efforts to determine the cause of the accident.

by Sandy Smith

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