Posted on: June 15, 2016
All improvements in mine safety laws have resulted from tragic accidents. In 2006, after three separate tragedies at the Sago, Aracoma, and Darby mines claimed the lives of 19 miners, a bipartisan group in Congress came together with the mining industry and labor representatives of our nation’s miners to craft the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act). It was the most significant mine safety legislation enacted in nearly 30 years and represented the first revisions to federal mine safety laws since the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act became law in 1977.
The Act further improved mine safety nationwide, by increasing training, upgrading mining standards, improving mine emergency response and requiring enhanced technology underground for post-disaster communications. Instead of waiting until after a disaster to figure out how to respond, the Act mandates that coal mine operators develop and continuously update written emergency response plans. Regulations issued in accordance with the Act require mine operators to provide prompt notification to MSHA in the event of an accident.
The Act also requires industry to maintain a cadre of mine rescue teams that provide more rapid response and are better trained in the event of an emergency at an underground coal mine. Also as a result of the MINER Act, miners trapped due to a disaster know there are refuge chambers and caches of emergency air to keep them alive while the MINER Act-mandated mine emergency plans are put into action to locate and rescue them. Finally, the Act established the role of a family liaison to be a communications link to families as they await word about their loved ones. Requirements contained in the MINER Act help ensure that mine operators are thinking about safety even when MSHA is not on-site.
In the past 10 years, there have been a number of enhancements in mine safety and health, including:
- implementing new mine communications and tracking systems to dramatically improve and streamline communications between the Surface Command Center and underground miners and mine rescue teams,
- establishing Mine Emergency Operations (MEO) locations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, and Utah to improve the nation’s mine rescue capability and response, and
- greater accessibility of self-contained self-rescue (SCSR) devices for miners, placed strategically throughout underground coal mines.
Although there is no doubt that the MINER Act has contributed to a safer mining environment, we must continue to do everything we can to improve safety and health in our nation's mines. Miners deserve to return home safely to their families at the end of every shift. We owe our nation’s miners that much.