Illinois Governor Introduces Mine Safety Legislation

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed legislation that would require additional safety precautions to protect Illinois miners. The new proposals include measures that would aid both rescuers and miners in escaping if an accident occurred.

"Coal mining is re-emerging here in Illinois," Blagojevich said. "As we bring more mines back to life, we have to make sure that the men and women who go underground every day are safe and secure."

The proposed legislation includes provisions for:

  • Self-contained self-rescuers SCSRs are designed to supply an individual with 1 hour of oxygen for use in an emergency situation, and currently are required by federal regulation to be available to miners. Since more than an hour of travel would be required to reach the surface of many of Illinois' mines, Blagojevich is proposing that caches of SCSRs also be placed throughout the mine for use during a longer escape.
  • Emergency communication/tracking system The legislation would require the installation of a wireless communication device capable of receiving emergency communications from the surface at any location throughout a mine. Blagojevich also is proposing a tracking system to provide real-time monitoring of the physical location of each person underground.
  • Mine rescue stations Illinois currently operates mine rescue stations in Springfield, Benton, Harrisburg and Sparta. However, only two of those stations are certified by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Additionally, the state has agreements with all the underground mines to provide personnel to staff the stations, but there are no stipulations on how many people each company must provide. The new legislation would mandate reasonable participation in mine rescue teams by coal companies, as well as require certification of all mine rescue stations.
  • Lifelines and taglines State law already requires that each mine have two different ways of exiting a mine in the event of an emergency, each marked with reflectors. However, these reflectors can be impossible to locate in the event of a fire. To ensure that all miners can escape quickly, this provision would require lifelines along the escape routes. It also would require tag lines, which miners, in the event of an emergency, would be required to use. The tag lines would connect a group of miners together, preventing individual miners from becoming lost.

The legislation also calls for adequate transportation of sick or injured miners; the certification of independent contractors working in or around mines; competency certification for general surface supervisors; and the prohibition of methane extraction from sealed areas of active mines and abandoned mines that are attached to active workings.

"In light of the tragedies that have hit coal mining families in West Virginia and Kentucky, we need to double our efforts to protect those who make their living going underground to mine coal," bill co-sponsor Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said. "Updating mine rescue stations, like the ones in Benton and Harrisburg, using transponders to locate trapped miners and ensuring there are extra supplies of oxygen available in case of an emergency will give our miners a better chance at surviving an accident. These efforts will go a long way in making sure they leave their job safe and secure at the end of the day."

Governor: Illinois Coal Industry Making a Comeback

Three new mines are expected to come online in Illinois in 2006 which Blagojevich cites as further evidence that the coal industry is making a comeback in Illinois.

The industry began to decline in the 1990s, Blagojevich said, after tougher federal sulfur emission standards were put in place. Since then, advances in clean-coal technology have made it possible to burn Illinois coal and still meet the strictest air-quality standards in the nation.

In the 1980s, Illinois employed more than 18,000 coal miners, producing more than 60 million tons of coal per year. Today, despite a 77 percent reduction in the work force, Illinois coal companies produce 32 million tons of coal annually, with production up nearly 10 percent in the past 2 years, according to Blagojevich.

There were no fatalities in Illinois' coal and aggregate mines in 2004 and 2005.

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