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Petition - Docket No. M-97-111-C

Inthe matter of
Freeman United Coal Mining Company Crown III Mine
l.D. No. 11-02632
Petition for Modification
Docket No. M-97-111-C

PROPOSED DECISION AND ORDER

On August 26, 1997, a petition was filed seeking a modification of the application of 30 CFR 75.332(a)(2) to Petitioner's Crown III Mine, located in Farmersville, Montgomery County, Illinois. The Petitioner alleges that the proposed alternative method will at all times provide the same measure of protection as the standard.

Petitioner seeks to modify the application of the standard to allow one continuous miner, on the same working section, to cleanup the working place it previously mined, while a second continuous miner cuts and loads coal from another working place, all on the same split of air.

MSHA personnel conducted an investigation of the petition and filed a report of their findings and recommendations with the Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health. After a careful review of the entire record, including the petition and MSHA's investigative report and recommendations, this Proposed Decision and Order is issued.

Finding of Fact and Conclusion of Law

The Petitioner's proposed alternate method must promote the same safety goals as the original standard with the same degree of success. After considering the proposed alternative method, MSHA concludes that it does not provide a substantive alternative designed to result in the same safety goals with the same degree of success, in that it appears to be a request for a waiver of section 75.332(a)(2}, which prohibits the simultaneous loading of coal or rock, or mining or cutting of two continuous miners on the same split of air within the working section. The preamble to the fmal ventilation rules promulgated in 1992 for section 75.332 states that, "This [separate split of intake air ventilating each working section] provides miners on each section with at least one fresh air intake not contaminated with gases or dust from another set of mining equipment." (57 FR 20883) The preamble to the final rule also states that, "[keeping with existing practice, the fmal rule allows more than one set of mining equipment on a split, with the condition that only one set at a time may be used for cutting, mining, or loading coal or rock. Thus, one set may be repositioned or serviced while the other set is mining." Itshould also be noted that one .continuous miner may push up loose coal or rock but not operate the cutter drum and/or the conveyor while another continuous miner cuts coal in another place, all on the same split of air. The preamble to the final ventilation rules published in 1996 notes that, "[t]he safety benefits of using separate splits of air to provide ventilation are well established. A primary benefit of such a provision is to protect workers down-wind from being put at risk by events up-wind from their location. Among the most serious of these risks is miners being overcome by the products of combustion or an explosion." (61 FR 9781).

MSHA concludes that the petition does not propose an alternative method but is essentially a request for a waiver of the standard's prohibition because the petitioner has proposed adding an extra continuous mining machine on the section. The petitioner's alternative method alleges that the second continuous miner will not be cutting coal, but will be "cleaning up" while the other continuous miner cuts coal in a separate working place. MSHA's investigation revealed that the clean-up continuous miner will be loading coal and rock, and also is likely to be cutting bottom during the "clean-up" operation while another continuous miner continues to cut coal. The cutting of "bottom" to grade bottom irregularities or trim coal bottoms that remain after mining is actually the simultaneous cutting of additional coal--an operation which the standard was intended to prohibit because of the increased dust and methane hazards. The alternative method proposed by the petitioner does not foster the same safety goals as the original standard in that it merely proposes to load and/or cut coal and rock from the mine floor while the other continuous miner is engaged in mining coal from the face. The simultaneous loading or cutting of coal and rock, or mining, are the very operations that the standard was designed to prevent.

MSHA permits the use of a split ventilation system, which allows two continuous miners to operate simultaneously on the same section and dump their loads at a common loading point. This type of mining is accommodated by requiring the current of air directed into the section to be split ("fishtailed") inby the loading point so that two splits of intake air ventilate the faces. This provides a separate split of air for each set of mining equipment so that "methane or dust produced during production activities by one set of equipment does not harm miners working with another set of equipment." (57 FR 20883) However, the petitioner reportedly did not plan to use a split ventilation system at this mine.

The use of separate splits of air to ventilate separate areas where persons work in underground coal mines has long been .recognized as crucial to miner safety. See e.g., S. Rep. No. 91-411, 91st Cong., 1st Sess. 63-64, reprinted in Legislative History of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, 94th Cong., 1st Sess., Senate Subcommittee on Labor and Public Welfare, at 188-189 (1975) ("[t]he fundamental purpose[s] of splitting air in a mine . . ." include ". . . (2) to allow better control of the entire mine ventilation system generally and of each working area specifically . . . (4) to limit the effect of sudden or unusual liberation or outbursts of methane, (5) to eliminate the movement of methane from one area to another with attendant buildup in percentage concentration, and (6) to prevent the lethal products of a fire or explosion in one area from being carried to other working areas").

Even assuming that the petitioner's proposed alternate method is not a request for a waiver, MSHA concludes that it does not promote the same safety goals as the original standard. Under the alternative method as proposed, MSHA notes that there would be two operating continuous mining machines on a working section creating dust or liberating methane--one downwind from the other. Thus, miners would be exposed to intake air contaminated with gas or dust generated from the other set of mining equipment. This is precisely the situation that section 75.332(a)(2) was designed to prevent to avoid exposing miners to methane or dust, or putting miners at risk from events such as an explosion or fire occurring up-wind of their location.

MSHA has also considered the net safety effects of this proposed modification. Taking into account both the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed alternate method, including effects unrelated to the goals of the original standard, MSHA has concluded that the modification would adversely affect overall mine safety when compared to the protection that is provided by compliance with the standard. MSHA investigators found that the petition did not address the cutting or grading of the mine floor, which would introduce additional dust into the mine atmosphere and potentially create problems such as float coal dust or respirable dust. MSHA's investigation found that there would be higher respirable dust levels on the down-wind side of the section, and that dust concentrations were, in fact, higher on one of the sections where the two continuous mining machines would be operated under the proposed petition. Despite the fact that the sections may still be in compliance with the respirable dust standard, MSHA concludes that the potential additional dust in the mine atmosphere would negatively affect miner safety and health. Under the proposed alternate method, water sprays would be used at all times during clean-up operations to suppress respirable dust. However, MSHA notes that while the mine was .being investigated for the petition the water sprays were not operated at times during the cleanup process due to visibility problems. The continuous miner operators stated that it was difficult to see the mine floor to clean it up while the water sprays were operating. MSHA is concerned that the water sprays may not be used consistently as required, and that dust concentrations would be increased.

MSHA also concludes that methane liberation could be higher under the petition which would permit simultaneous cutting of the coal face and clean-up of coal on the same working section. Additional methane could be released when the bottom is being cut--an operation which the petitioner's proposed alternative method would allow. Allowing two continuous mining machines also allows an additional ignition source within one air split with an increased chance of methane liberation. Higher methane liberation could create problems for the continuous miner operating down-wind of the cutting machine.

Inaddition, MSHA investigators noted during their investigation that pull-through curtains were opened to allow the ram car operators to see through the area. When the continuous miner downwind began to mine coal, the air was short-circuited through this open curtain, thereby reducing the amount of ventilation available to the machine down-wind. MSHA investigators also observed problems in the use of radios for communications, because the radios were out of range at times. Messsages had to be relayed through more than one radio to get to the other side of the section. MSHA concludes that this could create a confusing sceneario on the section when instructions need to be relayed back and forth in a fast manner.

MSHA concludes that the proposed altnative method, if implemented, would not be in agreement with the intent of 30 CFT 75.332(a)(2) that only one continuous miner be simultaneously operated, cutting and loading coal or rock, on a single split of air, within the working section because of increased dust levels and increased fire and explosive pressure. However, the use of split section ventilation and other allowable mining methods would acheive the petitioner's objective, and is not precluded by the standard. The propsed petition for modification provied one method to obtain economy of operation, however as stated above, other alternatives provide for in the standard can accomplish the same objective. The alternative method proprosed by the Petitioner will not at all ti mes guarantee no less than the same measure of protection afforded the miners under 30 CFR 75.332(a)(2).

On the bases of the petition and the findings of MSHA's investigation, Freeman United Coal Mining Company is not granted a modification of the application of CFR 75.332(a)(2) to its Crown III Mine.

ORDER

Wherefore, pursuant to the authority delegated by the Secretary of Labor to the Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health, and pursuant to Section 101(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C., Section 811(c), it is ordered that  Freeman United Coal Mining Company's Petition for Modification of the application of 30 CFR 75.332(a)(2) in the Crown II Mine is hereby:

DENIED.

Any party to this action desiring a hearing on this matter must file in accordance with 30 CFR 44.14, within 30 days. The request for hearing must be filed with the Administrator Coal Mine Safety and Health, 201 12th Street South, Suite 401, Arlington, VA 22202-5450.

If a hearing is requested, the reqest shall contain a concise summary of position on the issues of fact or law desired to be raised by the party requesting the hearing, inc!uding specific objections to the Proposed Decision and Order. A party other than the petitioner who requested a hearing shall also comment upon all itsues of fact or law presented in the petition. Any party to this action requesting a hearing may indicate a desired hearing site. If no request for a hearing is filed within 30 days after service thereof, this Proposed Decision and Order will become final and must be posted by the operator on the mine bulletin board at the mine.

 

Robert A. Elam

Deputy Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health