Pennsylvania Closer to Mine Safety Law Overhaul

Pennsylvania is one step closer to modifying its mine safety law, with proposed legislation that could improve safety for coal miners throughout the state by overhauling outdated regulations.

The Bituminous Coal Mine Safety Act, or Senate Bill 949, would significantly update the state mining law for the first time since 1961. The legislation is the result of an agreement among mining companies, labor unions and the state administration to address key issues affecting coal mining safety.

Patrick Henderson, senate aide for state Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Clarion, expects the 230-page bill will be introduced to the Senate Energy and Environmental Resources Committee around Jan. 10.

“It’s a complete rewrite of Pennsylvania’s entire mine safety law,” Henderson told OccupationalHazards.com.

The bill proposes to establish a seven-member Coal Mine Safety Board with the authority to update state mine regulations to remain current with the latest safety information and technology. According to Henderson, the Coal Mine Safety Board was a contentious issue until mine owners, workers and unions were assured the board would be balanced, with membership to include three industry members, three groups representing miners and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The legislation also makes mine owners responsible for safety at their mines. The bill outlines that owners or operators “can be held criminally” for their actions, Henderson added.

“It is my hope that this legislation will be enacted swiftly,” Gov. Edward G. Rendell said in a December statement. “It is good and groundbreaking legislation because it establishes so many important things and puts the responsibility for mine safety where it belongs.”

Henderson said he and others are “hoping to have the bill go through relatively quickly. We have full support of the governor’s office.”

Dec. 19 Declared Pa. Coal Miners Day

At a ceremony on Dec. 19, 2007, Rendell declared the date as Coal Miners Day to recognize the sacrifices and contributions Pennsylvania coal miners have made over the years.

The commemoration marked the 100th anniversary of the state’s deadliest mining accident, when an explosion in the Darr Mine killed 239 miners in 1907. Since 1870, Pennsylvania suffered a total of 51,514 mining fatalities.

“It’s important that we keep in context just what our coal miners do,” Rendell said.

During the ceremony, Rendell highlighted mining operation improvements that have been made in Pennsylvania since 2003:

  • Reviewing every mine permit application and rejecting applications if safety officials think unsafe conditions exist.
  • Developing more stringent requirements to verify and validate underground mine maps before new mining can begin.
  • Increasing the distance between planned mining and abandoned mines from 200 to 500 feet.
  • Replacing 30-year-old equipment with new, self-contained breath units for underground mine rescue teams.
  • Developing and implementing improved training and continuing education programs for mining professionals, managers and inspectors.

These changes, as well as recommendations leading to Senate Bill 949, were in part prompted by the 2002 Quecreek Mine incident, where nine Pennsylvania coal miners were trapped underground for 3 days before they were rescued.

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