Industry-backed panel urges many more changes
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Months after Congress passed a sweeping set of safety reforms spurred by mounting deaths in the nation's coal mines, an industry-backed panel has suggested 75 more changes in mining practices.
Some of the suggestions put forward by the Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission mirror earlier reforms, including improved training and a push for new technologies to allow miners stranded underground to communicate with rescuers on the surface.
Others suggested changes in the way mining companies view safety, calling for "a comprehensive approach, founded on the establishment of a culture of prevention" -- an idea likely to be hard to put into the language of law.
"Basically, we're going to follow a paradigm shift in the way mine safety is managed from here on," said R. Larry Grayson, a professor of mining engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla, who chaired the commission.
Other recommendations by the panel included a push for underground shelters for stranded miners, research into new designs for seals to close off abandoned sections of mines, upgraded communications systems and a push to have Congress fund more research into ways to improve underground safety.
Many of the recommendations are addressed in the recently passed MINER Act, while others hint at an overall change in the way individual mines and the industry operate from day to day.
"We're going to go to Congress -- we're going to make our case on how this ought to be adopted," Mr. Grayson said.
Mr. Grayson said that his panel had complete independence and that he isn't sure how the 75 recommendations will be received.
"I don't know how they're going to react to all the provisions there, because they're pretty extensive," Mr. Grayson said after unveiling the report before the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, an international coal panel meeting yesterday at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown.
The panel's report comes near the end of a year that saw a spike in the number of coal mine deaths. Forty-six miners have died in accidents throughout the country in 2006, including 12 who died after a methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia Jan. 2.
The explosion, delayed rescue and subsequent drama, followed two weeks later by a mine fire in what authorities say was a badly maintained and unsafe mine in Logan County, W.Va., spurred calls for improved safety standards.
The panel's call for standards to be developed for fresh-air safe rooms along mine escape routes and training miners to use barricades only as a last resort was a clear outgrowth of the Sago disaster. Thirteen miners underground after a methane explosion were unaware the mine's escape route was still intact, and built a makeshift barricade in a vain attempt to hold back carbon monoxide that filled the mine and killed 12 of them.
Mr. Grayson's panel urges upgraded, mine-specific safety training and rescue training. It also builds on MINER Act provisions, calling for "hardened" communications systems -- blastproof and fireproof -- that will allow trapped or stranded miners to communicate with the surface.
First Published December 6, 2006 12:00 am