The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

June 10, 2007

State now moving on mine shelters

West Virginia coal mines are set to begin installing underground refuge chambers in the coming months even though the federal government has yet to begin testing the shelters.

Plans are moving forward for full compliance with new mine safety laws requiring underground shelters in the Mountain State. None of the approved models has been used in coal mines before nor has any undergone practical environment testing using human test subjects. But engineers have signed off on the specifications and anticipated performance for each shelter.

The United Mine Workers of America supports moving forward, but the labor union’s top health and safety administrator said the group’s posture is based on information it has gotten from others.

“We’re going forward based on what everyone else has told us,” said Dennis O’Dell, administrator of the UMWA Department of Occupational Health and Safety. “Based on the information we were presented, we believe these will protect miners. If, in fact, there is a serious question about whether these actually will increase the health and safety of miners or possibly be dangerous, then they should stop and do additional testing.”

NIOSH Testing

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is finalizing its protocol for testing refuge chambers at its Lake Lynn underground coal mine research laboratory.

Once the testing can begin, NIOSH scientists expect it will take about one week per unit, although many West Virginia coal mines already have placed orders for refuge chambers because of deadlines established in new mine safety rules.

The draft research protocol has been circulated among scientists and stakeholders, such as the West Virginia Mine Safety Technology Task Force, the UMWA and the National Mining Association.

“We asked them to have their comments in by June 8 ... and early next week, we’ll work our way through the changes. We hope to have the final protocol done by the end of next week,” said Dr. Eric Bauer, senior mining engineer at NIOSH.

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