Mine Safety and Health Administration Issues Final Rules Governing Underground Fire Safety, Refuge Alternatives
On the last day of 2008, the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published two final rules in the Federal Register setting standards for underground mine operations. One final rule requires underground mine operators to use flame-resistant conveyor belts and institute other fire protection measures. This rule implements recommendations set forth in a report released last year by a technical study panel established under Section 11 of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006. According to a press release issued by the MSHA, the final rule mandates that underground coal mine operators:
- Place in-service conveyor belts that are more flame resistant than those currently used beginning one year after the effective date of the final rule (existing belts must be replaced within 10 years).
- Request MSHA approval in the mine ventilation plan to use air from the belt entry to ventilate working sections.
- Replace point-type heat sensors with carbon monoxide sensors.
- Improve belt maintenance by requiring belts to be aligned, damaged rollers to be replaced, and by prohibiting materials in the belt entry where they may contribute to a frictional heating hazard.
- Standardize signals on lifelines in escapeways to identify direction of travel to the surface, self-contained self-rescuer unit storage caches, personnel doors and refuge alternatives.
- Establish airlocks where high air pressure differentials exist on personnel doors along escapeways to allow safe access to adjacent entries.
- Require lower dust levels in belt entries for mines that use air from the belt entry to ventilate a working section if the working section has a reduced dust standard.
- Within one year after MSHA approves smoke sensors for use in underground coal mines, install smoke sensors in addition to carbon monoxide sensors in mines that use air from the belt entry to ventilate the working section.
This rule is effective immediately.
The second final rule, published on December 31, requires underground coal mine operators to provide refuge alternatives to protect miners when a life-threatening event occurs that makes escape impossible. This rule implements Section 13 of the MINER Act of 2006. Specifically, the safety rule requires that, among other things, the refuge alternatives:
- Consist of either pre-fabricated self-contained units, or be made of 15 psi stoppings constructed in a secure space with an isolated atmosphere. Other types of refuges will be phased out over time.
- Provide at least 15 square feet of floor space per person and, depending on mining heights, 30 to 60 cubic feet of volume per person.
- Be located within 1,000 feet from the nearest working face and from locations where mechanized mining equipment is being installed or removed, and within 1-hour travel distances in outby areas, unless the operator requests - and the MSHA district manager approves - a different location based on an assessment of risks to individuals in outby areas.
- Be able to sustain workers for 96 hours, or 48 hours if advance arrangements are made for additional supplies from the surface.
- Contain a two-way communication system that can be used from inside the refuge alternative.
This rule takes effect 60 days after publication.