The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration today further defined its plans for a series of public hearings in the investigation of the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. The public hearings will commence after the initial witness interviews are completed.
"MSHA has a number of tools in its toolbox to investigate this tragedy that claimed 29 miners' lives," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "These include the physical inspection of the mine, public hearings with subpoenas and investigative interviews that protect witnesses with knowledge of what happened in the mine. During the investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster, MSHA will use all of the tools at our disposal."
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has announced the publication of a final rule in the Federal Register revising requirements that MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health use to approve sampling devices for monitoring miner exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The final rule updates approval requirements for the existing "coal mine dust personal sampler unit" to reflect improvements in this sampler over the past 15 years. The rule also establishes criteria for approval of a new type of technology, the "continuous personal dust monitor," which is worn by the miner and will report real-time dust exposure levels continuously during the shift.
Key features of the final rule include the following:
"The final rule upgrades the approval requirements for the existing dust sampler that has been in use since passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. It allows the approval of a new and revolutionary continuous personal dust monitor that, for the first time, allows for continuous monitoring in real time of the coal mine dust that miners breathe," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Most importantly," he added, "the new CPDM device is a tool that will help wipe out the black lung disease that has plagued miners for over a century, claiming tens of thousands of lives."
- Provides for MSHA approval of sampling devices for intrinsic safety and NIOSH approval for performance.
- Revises design specifications for the existing CMDPSU to reflect voluntary improvements made in the past 15 years, including reduction in size and weight, longer battery life, continuous flow and more tamper-resistant features.
- Establishes new requirements for approval of CPDMs, which will allow the operator to monitor dust levels in real-time and to immediately take corrective action to prevent overexposures.
- Establishes performance criteria to allow any instrument manufacturer to produce a continuous real-time dust exposure monitor.
The development of the unique CPDM sampling device was the product of a 12-year partnership and commitment involving MSHA, NIOSH, labor, management and other stakeholders. MSHA is now considering the best ways to use the CPDM device to protect miners from unhealthy coal mine dusts.
The final rule does not address compliance-related issues regarding the CPDM, such as how the unit will be used, who would be required to wear it and when. The use of the CPDM will be addressed in a future rulemaking.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has announced the publication of a final rule in the Federal Register revising the agency's electrical design requirements for the approval of high-voltage continuous mining machines. The rule also establishes additional safety standards to address the machines' installation, use and maintenance in underground coal mines. MSHA's existing standards do not address high-voltage continuous mining machines. Although this equipment has been used in underground coal mines since the late 1990s, mine operators must submit a petition for modification to use it.
Since 1997, MSHA has granted 52 PFMs - with specific conditions - to allow mine operators to use high-voltage continuous mining machines underground. Currently, there are 27 high-voltage continuous mining machines operating under PFMs in eight underground mines. Significant improvements in the design and manufacturing technology of high-voltage components provide for the use of high-voltage continuous mining machines with enhanced safety protection against fires, explosions and shock hazards.
"Compliance with this regulation will reduce the potential for electrical-related fatalities and injuries associated with high voltage continuous mining machine use," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "It also will reduce the need to file a petition for modification."
Key features of the final rule include the following:
- Provides for MSHA approval of high-voltage continuous mining machines, including better design and construction criteria and improved ground-fault protection. Approval ensures that the systems will not introduce an ignition hazard when operated in potentially explosive atmospheres.
- Establishes mandatory electrical safety standards for proper installation of high-voltage continuous mining machines, electrical and mechanical protection of equipment, handling trailing cables and performing electrical work.
- Preserves safety and health protections for miners while facilitating the use of advanced equipment designs.
- Greater protection against electrical shock, cable overheating, fire hazards, and back injuries and other sprains caused by handling trailing cables.
- Increased safety requirements to eliminate or minimize unsafe work and repair practices, such as handling lighter cables.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published a direct final rule and a companion proposed rule for parts 50 and 100 on December 29, 2009. MSHA stated that the Agency would withdraw the direct final rule if the Agency received significant adverse comments. Because the Agency did not receive any significant adverse comment, the direct final rule became effective.
Comments on the direct final rule and the proposal indicate that some members of the mining industry misunderstood the Agency’s intent. For clarification, the Agency intends that the phrase, “Any other accident,” as used in § 50.10(d) refers to:
• An entrapment of an individual for more than 30 minutes; and
• Any other accident as defined in § 50.2(h)(4)-(12).
The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration today announced that Genesis Inc. has agreed to a settlement of $548,865 for citations and penalties issued as a result of inspections prompted by hazard complaints registered on the heels of a mining fatality. A mechanic at the company's Troy Mine in Lincoln County, Mont., was killed in July 2007 when falling material trapped him in the cab of his truck. An administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission approved the settlement and ordered the company to make payments to MSHA beginning Feb. 26, 2010.
The miner's death brought to light seriously flawed ground control (roof) conditions at the mine, and miners made numerous hazard complaints to MSHA between August 2007 and April 2008. Those complaints resulted in dozens of citations being issued by MSHA inspectors.
"As a result of the litigation between MSHA and Genesis Inc., the company has begun implementing new ground control measures and workplace examination procedures," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Those efforts paid off because, during the first quarter inspection of fiscal year 2010, no ground control violations were detected."
MSHA's investigation found that the 2007 fatality occurred because the mine management failed to ensure that adverse ground conditions identified during the mining cycle were adequately supported. Management provided a ground control plan listing ground support systems that would enhance control of adverse ground; however, these systems were not fully implemented. Supplemental support materials identified in the ground control plan were not readily available.
In a separate settlement resolved in August 2009, Genesis Inc., agreed to pay $60,000 for one violation that contributed directly to the July 2007 fatality.