U.S. To Issue New Mine Safety Rules

Conveyer belts run coal into the Rum Creek Coal Plant, Melville, West Virginia, where two miners died in a 1-19-06 belt line fire at Massey's Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mine.
AP
Coal mine operators will soon have to store extra oxygen supplies underground and let federal officials know about accidents more quickly, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

The agency expects to publish a new emergency rule for mines within the next two weeks, MSHA spokesman Dirk Fillpot said Tuesday.

The mine agency issues emergency rules only rarely. They go into effect immediately, which is a departure from the typical, lengthy federal rulemaking process.

Miners are currently required to wear oxygen packs that provide about one hour's worth of air, but the new rule would force companies to store additional oxygen supplies in a readily accessible area for every miner.

The new rule also would require coal companies to notify the mine agency within 15 minutes after an accident occurs.

It took about two hours for MSHA to be notified of the Jan. 2 accident at the Sago mine in West Virginia, which left 12 miners dead.

That accident, and others that followed, have spurred the federal agency and state lawmakers to take action.

A new West Virginia law, passed in a single day, also requires extra oxygen in that state's mines. In addition, the state law requires coal companies to provide miners with emergency communication devices and equipment that can help rescuers locate trapped miners.

The new federal rule also would require companies to make sure miners have "lifelines" along all primary and alternate escape routes. Those are guides, such as ropes with reflective tape or cones, that help steer miners toward the surface during an explosion that may leave a mine dark.

Also Tuesday, West Virginia's mine safety director said he plans to resign, less than a week after West Virginia recorded its 15th and 16th coal-related fatalities this year. Doug Conaway told The Associated Press that he is ready to try something different after more than 20 years in state government.