Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere/Katharine Snyder
Phone: (703) 235-1452
Released Monday, October 23, 2000
Winter's Approach Heightens Mine Explosion Concern
The Mine Safety and Health Administration is reminding miners and mine operators that the risk of underground coal mine explosions increases with the approach of cooler weather and urges redoubled vigilance to prevent mine tragedies this winter. Historically, the nation's most devastating mine disasters have occurred between October and March.
"This year the U.S. coal mining industry saw its first fatal explosion in six years," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.
"We must never become complacent about this danger," he said, pointing to several recent methane explosions at underground coal mines in China, Pakistan and Ukraine that collectively killed nearly 200 miners.
In the past 20 years alone, U.S. coal mine explosions have claimed 92 lives, 54 of them in the Winter Alert months from October through March. The worst coal mine explosion in U.S. history killed 362 coal miners in December 1907. The worst coal mine disasters in the past 50 years were the December 1951 Orient No. 2 mine explosion near West Frankfort, Ill, with 119 deaths, and the November 1968, Consol No. 9 Mine explosion near Farmington, W.Va., with 78 fatalities.
"It's critical to double check your four lines of defense: Follow the mine's approved ventilation plan; make thorough examinations for methane and other hazards; keep potential ignition sources out of working-face areas; and apply rock dust in all areas of the mine," McAteer said.
In the winter months, large drops in barometric pressure can permit potentially explosive methane migrate from worked-out areas of an underground coal mine to areas where miners work or travel. This increases the risk that an explosive mixture of air and methane may come together with an ignition source, touching off an explosion.
Also in winter, cold dry air entering underground coal mines dries out the coal dust. Coal dust becomes harder to control and may contribute to explosion hazards.
"All four lines of defense are essential, and there is one potential ignition source that we can completely eliminate from underground coal mines -- smoking materials," McAteer said. "Since 1990, three fatal explosions were caused by smoking materials. We want to remind coal mine operators that they must have adequate search programs to make sure no smoking materials are carried underground, ever. This is literally a matter of life and death.
"Just as we've done in the past several years, we will place special emphasis on enforcement of ventilation requirements and smoking prohibition," said McAteer.
In the past two years MSHA has cited dozens of violations due to inadequate smoking-materials search programs.
This year's Winter Alert slogan, "Someone's Waiting for You at Home – Work Safely" will be distributed to all underground coal operations in the form of posters and hard hat stickers.
Willow Creek Mine
Day Branch Mine
Southmountain No. 3
Blacksville No. 1
Fire Creek No. 1
Pyro No. 9 Slope
No. 1 Mine Double R Coal Co.
Pyro No. 9 Slope
#2 Slope Mine, M.S.W. Coal Co.
Greenwich Collieries #1
Homer City Mine
McClure No. 1
RFH No. 1
Grundy No. 21
Adkins No. 11
Dutch Creek No. 1
Ferrell No. 17
Valley View, PA
Homer City, PA