Finding an SCSR compromise

NEW US federal regulations requiring extra caches of self-contained self-rescue devices (SCSRs) along escape routes of operations are being met with some resistance by at least one of the country’s coal companies.

Donna Schmidt

Earlier this week, coal operators were given the opportunity to present in the last of a series of public panels being held nationwide by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The companies, according to Associated Press, were in favour of SCSR caches with airlock access from parallel escape routes, while MSHA said it preferred an idea that would involve boreholes from the surface that would be drilled down into a hardened room.

In response to the airlock-cache idea, the agency said that an incident such as a fire could destroy access or the units themselves, in essence providing less protection than their option, the news service said. The coal companies, however, touted their SCSR idea; also airing concern over the cost (about $US650 each) and availability of the units, as they have become harder to obtain post-Sago.

Arch Coal safety vice-president Tony Bumbico said the airlock-cache idea was advantageous to mines because, in addition to being a more practical option, air pockets would be created in the cache area and allow workers to switch packs. MSHA’s proposal, he said, would not only require the drilling of boreholes but also require mines to obtain surface rights. “We urge MSHA to reconsider,” he said at the public hearing.

Other rules were also challenged by those in attendance, AP said, including a requirement that accidents be reported within 15 minutes. Evacuation drills every 90 days at all mines also raised concerns and feedback from those in attendance.

The rule is “very foolish”, TJS Mining owner James Szlankiewicz said at the meeting, citing hazards the frequent drills create for operations working in thin seams – in fact, his own workers already suffer continuous knee injuries. “My lost-time accidents are going to more than triple,” he said.

One group at the hearing found to be in favour of the current rules, according to the news service, was mining union UMWA. The group encourages the enforcement of some of them as well, said UMWA spokesperson Mark Bowersox, such as the 15-minute rule for accident reporting and the reporting of all mine fires instead of just those that exceed 30 minutes before being extinguished.

He said he does not want a repeat of the timeline of notification seen at Sago in January. “Two hours ... is unacceptable,” he said.