Coal Industry Blasts Safety Rules

By | June 20, 2011

Coal industry officials have roundly criticized two sets of new safety rules proposed by federal regulators following an explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners last year.

The West Virginia Coal Association and Alpha Natural Resources, the third-largest U.S. coal producer, urged the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to drop a proposal that would require mine operators to conduct more extensive safety examinations. Mine safety officials from West Virginia and Illinois also told MSHA to drop the idea.

Only the United Mine Workers labor union testified in favor of both measures, which were developed after the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia. Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha has since acquired the mine’s owner, Massey Energy.

The inspections proposal would require miners to find, fix and record serious regulatory violations while simultaneously conducting mandatory safety examinations to check for hazardous conditions such as elevated levels of explosive methane gas. Specially certified miners conduct the examinations, but Coal Association lobbyist Chris Hamilton said they’re not trained to know regulations.

John Gallick, Alpha’s vice president of safety, said the rule would place unrealistic burdens on mine examiners and exposes them to MSHA citations if they miss violations, which often are open to interpretation.

MSHA official Pat Silvey defended the proposal. “This would prevent some accidents because mine operators would be required to take actions earlier, before a hazardous condition develops,” she said.

UMW International’s Jerry Kerns II said the change would improve safety by eliminating judgment calls on whether a condition is hazardous. “The current rule simply requires the mine examiner to look for hazards,” Kerns said. “The proposal should result in a more thorough mine exam.”

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Insurance Journal West June 20, 2011
June 20, 2011
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