MSHA Publishes Final Rule on Coal Mine Seals

According to a new final rule issued by MSHA, underground coal mine operators must more than double the minimum strength requirements for all seals constructed in the nation's underground coal mines.

The rule, which replaces the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that went into effect in May 2007, increases the pounds per square inch (psi) pressure seals must be able to withstand in an event of an explosion. It also adds additional safeguards to protect miners.

"This final rule goes beyond the requirements Congress set forth in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response, or MINER, Act, which necessitates that mine seals be stronger than the 20 psi explosive pressure minimum established in 1992," said MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler. "Under the new rule, operators must strengthen the design, construction, maintenance and repair of seals, as well as sample and control atmospheres behind certain seals.”

The new rule, which was published in the April 18 Federal Register, mandates that seal strength now must be designed to at least 50 psi. In addition, when a dangerous condition is recovered, air sampling and miner withdrawal will be required behind seals that are under 120 psi.

The final rule also includes a number of other protections to improve miner safety:

  • Adherence to the same three-tiered approach outlined in the ETS, which requires additional seal strength where sealed atmospheres are more dangerous;
  • Removal of potential ignition sources from sealed areas;
  • Increased training for those involved in seal sampling and construction;
  • A certified supervisor for construction and repair of seals, with the mine operator’s senior management required to certify seal compliance with the MSHA-approved ventilation plan;
  • Requirements for design certification of seals; and
  • Enhanced recordkeeping to ensure compliance.

Seal manufacturers and mine operators have six months to submit revised seal applications and ventilation plans to comply with the final rule. Otherwise, because the final rule replaces the ETS from May 2007, it is immediately effective.

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