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As winter approaches, federal mine safety agency urges mining industry to heed unique hazards that winter weather brings

News Realease Posted:: [11/10/2016]

ARLINGTON, Va. – On Dec. 7, 1992, an explosion that rocked the South Mountain #3 coal mine in Norton, Virginia killed eight miners, and led investigators to find that failing to ventilate the mine properly, conduct pre-shift and weekly examinations, and apply proper amounts of rock dust contributed to the explosion.

To emphasize the unique hazards that falling temperatures and the onset of winter create in the mining industry, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today issued its annual Winter Alert message. In it, the agency reminds mine operators and miners to pay special attention to seasonal changes that may affect both surface and underground work environments. The campaign – which runs through March 2017 – emphasizes increased vigilance and adherence to safety principles during the colder months.

“The risk of underground coal mine explosions increases every winter, as do hazards associated with ice and snow that collect at surface facilities and preparation plants,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “While mine safety has improved vastly over time, these types of explosions have occurred far too often. We must remain vigilant about the conditions that can set them off.”

When cold weather causes barometric pressure to drop, methane gas can migrate more easily into the mine atmosphere, increasing the risk of an explosion. Dry winter air means drier conditions underground, making it more likely for coal dust to suspend in the mine’s atmosphere and create the potential for an explosion. Limited visibility, slippery walkways, and freezing and thawing highwalls also contribute to possible mishaps during the winter months.

This year’s theme, “Make Safety A Hole In One,” focuses on the prevention of coal mine explosions, stressing mine examinations, proper ventilation and rock dusting. It also addresses hazards specific to surface facilities and preparation plants.

Throughout the campaign, mine safety and health specialists will regularly visit mines around the country to heighten awareness to the changing conditions that take place during the winter months. Enforcement personnel will distribute materials that focus on “best practices” for performing miners’ jobs.

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Media Contact:

Amy Louviere, 202-693-9423, louviere.amy@dol.gov

Release Number: 16-2147-NAT