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MSHA News Release No. 98-0421
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Katharine Snyder or Rodney Brown
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Mining Community Notified of Problems With Mine Breathing Device

The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is notifying all users of the Ocenco EBA 6.5 self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR) of two identified problems that require new instructions so miners can effectively use the device in an emergency. Users need to be aware of revised donning instructions and the possibility of encountering increased breathing resistance when exhaling. The devices will still provide protection in case of a mine fire or explosion.

"A routine audit found problems with some of these devices that can affect their performance, and we are taking action to protect the miners," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Although the identified problems will require long-term corrective action, the devices will still provide protection and should be used in a mine emergency. Meanwhile, miners need to be aware of the current instructions so they can use the devices effectively if needed."

The problems with the Ocenco EBA 6.5 SCSR were initially identified in two units obtained during a routine audit conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Subsequently, NIOSH and MSHA, in the presence of the manufacturer, identified similar problems when 20 additional devices were tested. About 19,000 Ocenco EBA 6.5 SCSR devices are in use in the coal mining industry.

MSHA has issued a notice to operators of approximately 140 underground coal mines where Ocenco EBA 6.5 SCSR's are used. In addition, MSHA inspectors are visiting all these mines to assure that all affected miners receive this information.

Miners and mine operators are being notified that procedures for opening the EBA 6.5 SCSR, as outlined in the current user's manual, are not adequate to assure the miner could quickly and easily open the device. Even with the defect, the devices are operative; however, the device can be opened more quickly and easily by using both hands and pulling sharply on the two straps, one on the canister's back and the other on the canister's cover.

All mine operators who use the EBA 6.5 SCSR are required to train miners before their next underground shift in the correct procedures for quickly and easily opening the device. Any EBA 6.5 device that has broken or missing handle loops should be removed from service. MSHA has located all the problematical devices with one strap, and is requiring the manufacturer to take corrective action.

Miners and mine operators also are being notified that excessive breathing resistance during exhalation may affect some EBA 6.5 self-contained self-rescue devices. Although the breathing resistance is above the permissible limits, testing indicates that the device will still provide protection and should be used in an emergency.

Mine operators are required to inform all affected miners of the potential for encountering increased breathing resistance, and to instruct miners that the device will continue to provide protection, should be used in an emergency, and should not be removed in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.

MSHA and NIOSH are working with Ocenco, Inc., on revisions to the current user's manual to detail the correct procedures for opening the device. As a condition of continued certification of the EBA 6.5 device for use in the mining industry, MSHA and NIOSH also have required that Ocenco determine the cause of the increased breathing resistance, identify the number and location of affected devices, and take appropriate measures adequately addressing this issue as quickly as possible.

"MSHA and NIOSH are continuing to look into these concerns, and we will keep the mining community informed," McAteer said.

All underground coal mine operators are required to provide SCSR's to each underground miner for use in an emergency. The devices are intended to provide one hour of protection to underground miners against toxic or unbreathable atmospheres in case of a mine fire or explosion.

All SCSR devices are required to be certified by NIOSH and MSHA for use in the mining industry. Under a regular audit program, NIOSH each year randomly tests SCSR devices obtained from underground mines or from various SCSR manufacturers or distributors.