Mine Operators Urged to Provide Enough Breathable Air

MSHA has introduced a new program information bulletin for underground coal mine operators urging them to keep up to 96 hours of breathable air available for miners in the event of an emergency.

The requirement, posted in a bulletin titled "Options for Providing Post-Accident Breathable Air to Underground Coal Miners," was published to help operators implement Section 2 of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006.

The new law was enacted in May 2006 following a series of fatal mine accidents, starting with an explosion at the Sago Mine in January 2006.

"Providing this guidance is an important step in implementing the MINER Act and will help ensure that miners are protected should an accident occur," said MSHA Administrator Richard Stickler. "If miners cannot evacuate a mine following an underground mine emergency, they need a safe location that maintains an adequate supply of breathable air for them to use while they await rescue."

Guidance Offers Options for Operators

The new law requires each underground coal operator to adopt a written emergency response plan that includes:

An established borehole capable of providing fresh air to a predetermined location.

A 48-hour supply of breathable air, if advanced arrangements have been made to assure that miners who can't be rescued within 48 hours will receive more supplies of breathable air to sustain them.

A 96-hour supply of breathable air located in a pre-determined location.

NMA Will Review Program Bulletin

Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association (NMA), told OccupationalHazards.com that coal mine operators have taken steps to ensure that miners have proper breathing devices. According to a survey submitted by members of the NMA - which represents one-half of the U.S. underground coal mining industry - "approximately $60 million has been spent on 80,000 additional self-contained self-rescuers since the emergency temporary standard was issued by MSHA in 2006."

Popovich said that the association's safety committee will review the bulletin and provide comments.

The areas of discussion will involve how implementing the state requirements can come in conflict with the options and if there is a way to reconcile such conflicts, he said.

Mine operators have 30 days to submit plans addressing breathable air options. The program bulletin can be viewed at www.msha.gov.

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