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MSHA News Release No. 97-1113
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Thursday, November 13, 1997

SCSRs Still Function Properly
MSHA Notifies Coal Mining Community of Problem in Breathing Device

The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have notified all users of a self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR) manufactured by Mine Safety Appliances Co. that a problem exists which may render the unit unusable unless certain specific procedures are followed prior to using the device. Fragments of the chemical that produces oxygen have been found in the breathing tube of some units and would be undetectable by the typical user prior to initial use. If inhaled, these particles may induce a choking response from the person and could cause the wearer to discard the device rather than use it when it is most needed.

"We've identified a problem and have taken steps to protect the miners," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "These steps include training miners in interim procedures for donning the unit and providing a label to be attached to each unit reminding the miner of these procedures. In the meantime, the units will be replaced promptly to keep the risk of harm as low as possible."

MSHA, NIOSH, and the manufacturer have informed all affected mine operators that prior to using the Portal-Pack® SCSR the wearer must exhale into the breathing tube three times. This action would clear any particles in the breathing tube, preventing them from being inhaled by the user.

Mine Safety Appliances Co., based in Pittsburgh, Pa., has recalled the Portal-Packs' and is replacing them with Life-Saver 60® SCSRs. The company has committed to replacing all units by early 1998. The Portal-Pack® SCSRs are no longer manufactured.

MSHA enforcement personnel have informed some 110 affected mine operators of the new donning instructions and have required these mine operators to have their workers immediately trained in the added procedure to ensure their safety should an emergency situation arise. Also, MSHA inspectors will help see that instruction labels are attached to all units.

There are approximately 7,000 of the Portal Pack® SCSRs currently in use. SCSRs have a limited shelf life and manufacturers of these devices typically assemble units as they are needed rather than stock them for long periods of time.

The fragments were observed in the breathing tube of 11 of 43 Portal Pack® SCSRs examined by MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), who, jointly with MSHA, approves respirators for use in the mining industry. The particles were detected in devices that had been deployed in either the carried or machine-mounted mode.

In response, MSHA and NIOSH recommend that all carried and machine-mounted Portal-Pack® SCSRs be the first units to be removed from service as soon as they can be replaced by any other approved SCSRs.

To facilitate faster replacement, MSHA will temporarily permit the use of more than one type of SCSR at mining operations which use the MSA breathing device.

Federal mining regulations require that all underground coal miners be equipped with a breathing device that will provide the user at least one hour of oxygen during a mine emergency situation. In the event of a fire or explosion, the underground mining environment may become contaminated with toxic gases and fumes from which the SCSRs protect the user.

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