Saturday, January 21, 2006

Bush Administration Had Withdrawn Regulation Prevent Conveyor Belt Fires

In the wake of the tragic news that the two Aracoma No. 1 miners have been found dead, Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette, reveals that MSHA dropped a plan that could have required underground coal mines to use improved flame-resistant materials on conveyor belts three and a half years ago.

The proposed regulation was first introduced in 1992 to address growing concerns about a string of belt fires in underground coal mines. It was withdrawn because the risk of such fires had allegedly decreased due to technological advances.
“The decision was made that the hazards of belt fires would be addressed through carbon monoxide monitoring systems, and information on this incident indicates that the system at Aracoma did provide the warning that was expected, and that’s why the miners were withdrawn,” [Bob Friend, acting deputy administrator of MSHA]said of the group of miners that escaped the mine.
Yeah, we only lost two out of ten. Personally, I think it's preferable to prevent fires in the first place than to put you energy into better alarms.

And these belts are no small things:
In 1992, MSHA estimated that there were about 3,000 feet of conveyor belts in a small underground mine and 28,000 feet — about five miles — of such belts in larger mines.

Conveyor belts are a potential cause of mine fires, in part because belts can slip and cause sparks....MSHA data shows that, in nearly a third of the belt fires, flames traveled for “hundreds of feet” — creating “a severe hazard to the health and safety of miners.”

“When belt fires reach the propagation stage, they produce more fire gases and spread faster than the fires of surrounding coal surfaces,” MSHA has said. “The belt fires that have occurred since 1970 have burned as much as 2,000 feet of belt before the fire was extinguished.”
And, of course there are alternatives the the current belts that tend to catch fire.
MSHA said the United Kingdom had developed conveyor belt tests that forced companies to use materials that were more resistant to fires. “Germany and the U.K. are currently involved with the other European nations to negotiate a common standard,” MSHA said.
But why spend money on new technology that can save workers' lives if you don't have to?

Or is that why God invented regulations?

More 2006 Mine Disaster Stories