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U.S. Department of Labor


Mine Safety and Health Administration
1100 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22209-3939
EFFECTIVE DATE:   November 4, 2011 EXPIRATION DATE: 03/31/2013

PROGRAM POLICY LETTER NO. P11-V-17

FROM:            KEVIN G. STRICKLIN  KEVIN G. STRICKLIN
                       Administrator for
                       Coal Mine Safety and Health

                      LINDA F. ZEILER LINDA F. ZEILER
                      Director of Technical Support

SUBJECT:    Brass Compressed Gas Cylinder Valves and Associated Fittings
                   Used in Refuge Alternatives

Scope
This Program Policy Letter (PPL) applies to Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) personnel, underground coal mine operators, miners' representatives, and refuge alternative manufacturers.

Purpose
The purpose of this PPL is to provide guidance to the mining industry, enforcement personnel, and other parties concerning methods for maintaining approvals on refuge alternatives given the premature failures of brass valves and fittings on breathable air components of refuge alternatives and their impact on MSHA approved Emergency Response Plans (ERPs).

Policy As a result of the premature failures of brass valves and fittings on breathable air components, the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety &Training (WVOMHS&T) issued an order on October 14, 2011, to refit state-approved underground mine shelters (the "Order" - see attached).1 The Order generally establishes an October 31, 2011, deadline for manufacturers to inspect all mine shelters with approval granted in accordance with West Virginia Code of State Regulations § 56-4-8. In accordance with the Order, shelters found to contain valves or fittings showing signs of corrosion, stress corrosion cracking, or having improper dimensions must be taken out of service immediately, unless the manufacturer provides a signed statement that the shelter is safe to remain in service until the scheduled refit date. The order further requires that by the scheduled refit date, all brass compressed gas cylinder valves and associated fittings used in mine shelters must be replaced. In addition, the Order requires that the refitted mine shelters cannot be returned to service unless all of the shelter's components comply with current MSHA breathable air, air-monitoring, and harmful gas removal regulations and have necessary MSHA component approvals.



MSHA also has been working with West Virginia on this issue and recognizes the safety hazard associated with existing valves and fittings, and the Agency concurs with the procedures established in the Order. However, while the Order affects all manufacturers with West Virginia-approved refuge alternatives regardless of the state in which the units are used, underground coal mine operators in states other than West Virginia and those using refuge alternatives that are not West Virginia-approved are not subject to the Order. Because MSHA's regulation grandfathered refuge alternatives that were approved by West Virginia, MSHA is issuing a policy consistent with the Order to address the hazard with respect to refuge alternatives in all underground coal mines. The policy provides for timely replacement of brass valves and fittings, and it recognizes West Virginia's regulation mandating that refuge alternative manufacturers demonstrate compliance with current MSHA refuge alternative component approval requirements to maintain their West Virginia approvals.

The Order directs West Virginia underground coal mine operators to submit refit schedules and other documentation to the WVOMHS&T Director. Manufacturers also are required to submit information to the WVOMHS&T Director. Mine operators located in West Virginia with ERPs that specify use of West Virginia-approved prefabricated refuge alternatives as a basis for compliance with § 75.1506(a) will need to comply with the inspection, removal, refit, and component replacement schedule established in the Order and by WVOMHS&T to maintain the status of their refuge alternatives as state approved units. MSHA district managers will determine whether mine operators in West Virginia have taken actions necessary to maintain the West Virginia state approvals that are required for their refuge units to continue to be used under the grandfathering provisions of § 75.1506(a)(3).

Underground coal mine operators in states other than West Virginia who have an ERP specifying the use of West Virginia-approved prefabricated refuge alternatives as a basis for compliance with § 75.1506(a) must demonstrate to the MSHA district manager that their refuge alternatives have been inspected in accordance with the provisions of the Order and that damaged units have been removed from service until the defects can be corrected. District managers will designate the date on which operators must provide any requested inspection information, recognizing that the Order requires submission of inspection results by October 31, 2011, unless the WVOMHS&T Director establishes an alternative date. These operators also must communicate with the district manager to establish a schedule for replacing brass valves and fittings. While individual replacement schedules will be developed in conjunction with district managers, replacement dates should be set according to the refuge alternative's installation date and the condition of existing valves and fittings. Based on currently available information from manufacturers, the Agency anticipates that replacement valves and fittings will start to become available within five months, and all valves and fittings must be replaced by December 31, 2013. However, if West Virginia subsequently establishes a replacement schedule applicable to all West Virginia-approved units, operators relying on their West Virginia approvals would need to comply with that schedule. Also, as discussed in the Order, once provided with replacement valves and fittings, refuge alternatives cannot be placed back into service without components that comply with current MSHA breathable air, air-monitoring, and harmful gas removal regulations and have necessary MSHA component approvals.

A few operators currently are using prefabricated refuge alternatives that do not rely on a state approval for compliance with § 75.1506(a); these units were grandfathered because MSHA accepted them as being in service and approved in an emergency response plan prior to March 2, 2009. The potential for the premature failure of brass valves and fittings also exists in breathable air components associated with these units. For this reason, these valves and fittings also must be promptly inspected by a qualified person, removed unless verified to be safe for continued use, and ultimately refitted with appropriate valves and fittings. MSHA district managers will work with these operators to establish the manner in which they will timely convey their inspection results, determine whether existing refuge alternatives need to be removed from service until the defects can be cured, and establish a schedule for replacing brass valves and fittings. While individual replacement schedules will be developed in conjunction with district managers, replacement dates should be set according to the refuge alternative's installation date and the condition of existing valves and fittings. Based on currently available information from manufacturers, the Agency anticipates that replacement valves and fittings will start to become available within five months.

A number of operators are using refuge alternatives consisting of 15-psi stoppings in conjunction with breathable air, air-monitoring, and harmful gas removal components. The components used in these units are not state-approved, but either were grandfathered for use or were permitted pursuant to an emergency response plan approval because Part 7 approved components were not commercially available. The potential for premature failure of brass valves and fittings associated with compressed air cylinders also exists with respect to these breathable air components. This policy requires that valves and fittings in 15-psi stopping refuge alternatives must be promptly inspected by a qualified person, removed unless verified to be safe for continued use, and ultimately refitted with appropriate valves and fittings. MSHA district managers will work with these operators to establish the manner in which they will timely convey their inspection results, determine whether existing refuges need to be removed from service until the defects can be cured, and establish a schedule for replacing brass valves and fittings. While individual replacement schedules will be developed in conjunction with district managers, replacement dates should be set according to the refuge alternative's installation date and the condition of existing valves and fittings. Based on currently available information from manufacturers, the Agency anticipates that replacement valves and fittings will start to become available within five months.

Background
Refuge alternatives are required in all underground coal mines in accordance with 30 CFR 75.1506(a). Refuge alternatives operate with structural, breathable air, air monitoring, and harmful gas removal components. Prefabricated self-contained refuge alternative structures that states have approved and those that MSHA has accepted in approved ERPs that were in service prior to March 2, 2009, are permitted for use under the MSHA standards until December 31, 2018, or until replaced, whichever comes first. While § 75.1506(a)(3) allows for the use of these structural components until December 31, 2018, the breathable air, air-monitoring, and harmful gas removal components associated with grandfathered refuge alternative structures are permitted only until December 31, 2013, or until replaced, whichever comes first.

On Sunday, January 9, 2011, a catastrophic failure occurred in an oxygen cylinder fitting connected to the breathable air system in a refuge alternative located in an underground coal mine. This failure allowed a rapid release of oxygen, which pressurized the interior of the steel structure and created an oxygen enriched environment. The pressure build-up inside the container forced open both the tent deployment door and the air-lock access door, ejecting a supply container and 5-gallon water containers from the access door area onto a nearby rib.

Investigations conducted by MSHA and WVOMHS&T led to the discovery of cracks on multiple valves and fittings, as well as fittings that did not meet Compressed Gas Association (CGA) dimensional specifications. These compromised valves and fittings were discovered on high pressure oxygen and air cylinders used in approved shelters from multiple manufacturers.

In January and February 2011, MSHA and the State of West Virginia published notifications alerting manufacturers, mine operators, miners, and other interested parties to hazards associated with cracked valves and fittings and dimensionally incorrect fittings. At that time, MSHA stated that mine operators should contact their refuge alternative manufacturer and request a prompt and thorough examination of the valves and fittings associated with breathable air components. The Agency has been informed that much of the inspection activity contemplated in this PPL already has been performed in response to information earlier provided by MSHA and the State of West Virginia.

Subsequent metallurgical analyses were conducted by two independent laboratories. Results of these analyses pointed to fracturing due to stress-corrosion cracking. This could have resulted from the interaction of a chemical agent or possibly moisture with the zinc in the brass.

Authority
Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, as amended, 30 U.S.C. § 801 et seq.; 30 CFR § 75.1506(a).

Internet Availability
This Program Policy Letter may be viewed on the World Wide Web by accessing the MSHA Home Page (www.msha.gov) and choosing "Compliance Info" and "Program Policy Letters."

Who are the MSHA contact persons for this PPL?
Coal Mine Safety and Health, Division of Safety
Johnny P. Calhoun, (202) 693-9507
E-mail: Calhoun.Johnny@dol.gov

Technical Support, Approval and Certification Center
Howard C. Epperly, (304) 547-2034
E-mail: Epperly.Howard@dol.gov

Distribution
MSHA Program Policy Manual Holders
MSHA Special Interest Groups
Underground Coal Mine Operators
Miners' Representatives