Monday, January 23, 2006

Federal and State Legislative Activity Around Mine Safety

The Senate appropriations commitee held a hearing on the Sago tragedy today. The most interesting part was when the Senator Tom Harken asked about new technologies that could help locate miners and communicate with them after an accident, Acting Assistant Secretary for MSHA, Robert Dye said that the technologies still hard problems.

Then up came Davitt McAteer, head of MSHA under Clinton and currently W.Va Governor Manchin's advisor for mine safety, held up the devices and objected:
"To act like these devices aren't ready to go is just plain wrong," he said, adding, small low-frequency tracking devices and one-way text messaging had both already been approved for use and had contributed to saving lives at several mines that voluntarily adopted their use.
McAteer said that the messaging devices would cost up to $150,000 for a mine the size of Sago (or $750 per miner) and the transponders used to locate lost miners would only cost $20 per miner. McAteer said that no mines in the United States were using the text messaging technology (allowing those above ground to communicate with the miners (for example, about where to find fresh air or evacuation routes), although it was in widespread use in Australia where the government helped develop it. The locator devices, according to McAteer were being used in perhaps 14 out of the 15,000 coal and metal/non-metal mines in the country.

Harkin responded, "Gosh, I hate to regulate everythinhg, but dogone it, if they're not going to do it, we've got to force them to do it."

Meanwhile, the West Virginia legislature unanimously passed a bill that would require mines to use electronic devices to track trapped miners and stockpile oxygen to keep them alive until help arrives.
"No miner's family is going to have to endure what we all endured for 90 hours over the past three weeks," the governor said.

If the 14 miners who died in two accidents since Jan. 2 had been wearing tracking devices, "we could have concentrated all our efforts, all our resources on that one location," Manchin said.
The legislation also required extra supplies of oxygen to be placed around the mine and
Manchin also proposed to fine coal companies $100,000 if they fail to report an emergency within 15 minutes. At Sago, company officials placed the first calls to state and federal safety officials more than an hour after the explosion. It was not immediately clear when the first calls were placed in the Aracoma fire.
More 2006 Mine Disaster Stories