MSHA highly regarded Crandall families: Stickler

IN LIGHT of testimony and finger-pointing that is a part of this week's US House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor meetings regarding the Crandall Canyon incident in Utah in August, Mine Safety and Health Administration head Richard Stickler spoke out to
MSHA highly regarded Crandall families: Stickler MSHA highly regarded Crandall families: Stickler MSHA highly regarded Crandall families: Stickler MSHA highly regarded Crandall families: Stickler MSHA highly regarded Crandall families: Stickler

Mine Safety and Health Administration head Richard Stickler

Donna Schmidt

He outlined MSHA's boundaries regarding its control over mine operators, in particular with regard to issues the victims' families had taken with Crandall co-owner Robert Murray. By law, family communication is to be managed by the federal regulatory agency.

Its level of legal oversight, Stickler said, extends to the minesite only.

"We have no legal authority or control off mine property," he said, adding that when families had expressed concerns over the manner in which Murray had projected his information during meetings, he had asked the local sheriff to exercise his authority and exclude him from future such gatherings that he was leading.

The agency's focus on the family, Stickler added, began immediately after the incident with the presence of 24/7 volunteer family liaisons, each of whom had a mining background and answered questions while providing the latest information.

Each day during the ordeal, he would personally brief family members at least twice, spending a total of three to six hours with them, and provided a direct phone hotline to the agency's command centre.

Stickler also spoke of the potential for increased communication between it and state agencies, as well as its communication with the public. He urged any individual, be it a miner, family member or industry person, to let MSHA know if they have a safety concern.

The agency's email system or toll-free hotline can be used to share the information, and the submitter can remain anonymous, he said. Once a concern is logged regarding any type of hazard, an inspector will be dispatched to confirm the reported conditions.

Stickler also recalled some of the points of progress MSHA has attained with mine safety during his administration, including changes made to the agency's violation structure that was signed in March and May's Emergency Temporary Standard for seals.

MSHA also continues working with developers of wireless communication devices to find a truly wire-free, two-way system before the MINER Act's installation deadline of June 2009.

"Hundreds of hours have been invested in working with vendors, he said, and in the meantime they have been very involved in seeking out the next best thing".

Crandall Canyon's system, Stickler explained, was redundant. Its installed PED system did not survive the impact - the antenna to keep the system online was destroyed. The wired connection for its second device was severed, leaving the mine with no communication with the six who were trapped.

Back in the hearing room, many of the lost miners' families in the audience during this week's events spoke on conditions their loved ones had told them about. The brother of one of the six - Kerry Allred, an experienced miner himself - said the operation was mined out and what remained there should not have been removed.

"There wasn't enough barriers left, or enough support," he said, according to wire reports.

"The rest of the mine had been long hauled out.

"I looked at the maps, and I've been in mining 27 years, and I shook my head. There was absolutely nothing to hold that mine up."