Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sago Deaths: "Difficult to Explain"

More from the Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward about why the Sago miners didn't need to die.
While 13 West Virginia coal miners were trapped inside the Sago Mine last month, three Tasmanian miners were saved from a fire by an 8-by-5-foot steel box.

Last week, 72 miners in Saskatchewan were rescued after being trapped underground for 30 hours, thanks to a similar box called a mine rescue chamber.

While waiting for rescuers, miners played checkers with washers on a board they drew on the back of a map.

All kinds of mines around the world use various types of airtight, reinforced boxes — stocked with food, water and oxygen supplies — to protect miners who become trapped underground.

Why don’t miners in the United States have rescue chambers to help them survive fires and explosions?
Good question.
Since late 1969, federal coal mine safety laws have allowed regulators to require mine operators to install these chambers. But for more than 36 years, government officials charged with enforcing that law have not used that authority.

The U.S. Department of Interior, which enforced mine safety rules until 1977, studied the issue but never took action.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, created in 1977, has done nothing to implement the rescue chamber law in the coal industry. MSHA never wrote industry-wide rules to require rescue chambers. Agency officials haven’t pressed individual coal companies to install the chambers.

“To me, it’s sort of a stunning revelation that something that could have saved these lives has been in the law for 36 years, and has never been used,” said Tony Oppegard, the former chief prosecutor for Kentucky’s mine safety agency and an MSHA adviser during the Clinton administration. “It’s difficult to explain and it’s difficult to understand why.”
More mine stories here.