Refuge chambers could become compulsory for US mines

THE US Mine Safety and Health Administration has proposed all underground coal mines in the US be fitted with emergency refuge chambers.

Donna Schmidt

The 35-page proposed rule published in the Federal Register was proposed June 13 but published this week, outlining an obligation for each of the nation’s 624 underground operations to either build airtight rooms, install rescue chambers or store materials to build a safe refuge in the event of an emergency.

Each shelter would need to provide the MINER Act-required 96 hours of air, water and necessities.

The proposal also includes refuge alternative testing and approval requirements and serves to implement the MINER Act’s Section 13, passed in 2006, and would require operators to include refuge alternatives in each mine’s Emergency Response Plan that the Act’s second section outlines must be submitted.

Requirements for the availability and maintenance of those alternatives and communication facilities for them are part of the document, as are outlined rules on miner training on the locations, use, maintenance and transportation of alternative chambers.

“While miners must continue to follow their first instinct – which is to withdraw from the mine in the event of an emergency – this proposed regulation calls for a protected, secure space that creates a life-sustaining environment when escape is not possible,'' MSHA director Richard Stickler said in a media statement.

Added the proposal’s authors: “MSHA’s objective, consistent with the MINER Act, is to improve the safety of mines and mining. Toward that end, this proposal would improve mine operators’ preparedness [for emergencies].”

MSHA anticipated the equipment makers would have to spend $US2.1 million annually in application and approval costs.

Meanwhile, it expects mining operations will have expenses estimated to be between $3.1 and $33.1 million for refuge purchase, installation, moving and repair, pre-shift exams and revisions to plans, maps and programs, and worker training.

The agency said it developed the rule based on its data and experience as well as the recommendations of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, research completed on both available and emerging technology, and the regulations of several coal-rich states.

MSHA is taking comments on the proposal until August 18, and has invited input by regular mail, email, fax, hand delivery or a direct submission through its web site. It is also holding four public hearings as follows:

July 29 – Salt Lake City, Utah (Radisson Downtown);

July 31 – Charleston, West Virginia (Marriott Charleston Town Center);

August 5 – Lexington, Kentucky (Hilton Suites Lexington Green); and

August 7 – Birmingham, Alabama (Sheraton Birmingham).

Each meeting will commence at 9am local time and wrap no later than 5pm the same day. It will begin with an opening statement from MSHA, followed by an open opportunity for oral presentations; those who wish to be given time should request such at least five days in advance.

A copy of the full proposed rule is available at

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