MSHA extends refuge comment period again

THE US Mine Safety and Health Administration has reopened the rule-making record for its existing rule on refuge alternatives and has also extended the deadline for input on the topic.

Donna Schmidt

The agency said it is reopening the rulemaking so that it could collect additional comments regarding the frequency of miner motor task (hands-on) decision-making and expectations training tied to refuge deployment and use underground.

The agency issued an initial request for information on August 8, asking for help in determining whether changes to existing practices and regulations would improve the overall strategy for survivability, escape and training to product miners in an emergency situation.

It opened the floor for 60 days, providing an October 7 deadline. That date, however, was during the government shutdown.

In September, that deadline was extended by an additional 60 days to December 6.

The newest notice reopens the rulemaking record for an additional 30 days, and will now close December 16.

“Responses to this request will help improve the overall strategy for training miners for survival in an underground coal mine emergency,” officials said.

Assistant secretary for mine safety and health Joe Main said in August that, once all comments were received, they would be reviewed to determine what further actions, if any, MSHA needed to take.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision on MSHA’s refuge alternative rule in October 2010, arguing the nation’s secretary of labor had not adequately explained the basis for requiring motor task (hands-on), decision making and expectations training annually instead of quarterly.

MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, under Section 13 of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, performed research and examinations on refuge chamber use in underground coal mines. The results of those tests were to be reported to Congress and the US secretary of labor.

In its report, NIOSH said refuge alternatives had the potential to save lives when part of a comprehensive escape and rescue plan, and with proper training given to a mine’s workers.

“Over the past five years, the mining community – operators and miners – has gained a great deal of experience with this technology and survival strategy,” Main said.

“We welcome the opportunity to hear from them on improvements we can make to better protect miners during mine emergencies and enhance their training experiences.”

There are two types of refuge alternatives, in-place shelters and mobile chambers.

Since the refuge alternatives rule became effective on March 2 2009, refuge alternatives have been placed in underground coal mines across the country.

For more information on the extension and record reopening, visit the MSHA web site.