This news story originally provided by AP
and the Daily Mail
Bush administration unveils emergency mine evacuation rules
By LARA JAKES JORDAN Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration, reacting to explosions that killed 15 miners in the last two years, unveiled an emergency safety standard Thursday that sets commonsense evacuation rules in underground mines.
The rule largely documents safety guidelines, including designating someone with current knowledge of the mine system to take charge during an emergency and allowing only trained and equipped rescue staff to remain underground during the emergency.
It also says miners should be trained to respond to fires, explosions, gas inundation or floods.
The new rule is temporary, but clears the way for permanent changes after public hearings are held in February in Lexington, Ky.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Pittsburgh.
A spokeswoman for the United Mine Workers Association said the labor union was reviewing the rule Thursday morning and did not have immediate comment.
The new rule comes in response to a Sept. 23, 2001, explosion at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 mine in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where 13 miners were killed, including 12 who rushed in to help an injured colleague.
That explosion marked the nation's worst mine accident since 1984.
"It is especially tragic that most of the victims in this accident were bravely responding to an emergency, and were in harm's way because of poor emergency management,'' federal Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Dave Lauriski said Wednesday, in Tuscaloosa releasing a report faulting Jim Walter operations in the disaster.
"We must prevent such tragic situations in the future,'' Lauriski said.
Jim Walter Resources officials have denied any safety flaws played a role in the explosion.
The Jim Walter disaster represented a total communication disaster, officials said Wednesday, as mine operators were unable to immediately locate the explosion or find a shift foreman to manage the crisis. Moreover, eight of the 12 miners who headed back to find their fallen colleague did so without gas detection equipment.
A similar crisis occurred a year earlier, on July 31, 2000, when four explosions at the Willow Creek Mine in Helper, Utah, killed two workers. Because they did not know how bad the underground conditions were, miners did not immediately evacuate after the first explosion -- which could have saved lives and prevented injuries, according to MSHA documents.
MSHA praised communications during the July 24, 2002, Quecreek disaster in Somerset, Pa., where nine miners were trapped for 77 hours after breaking into a flooded, abandoned mine. There, MSHA said, miners in the flooded area quickly alerted co-workers in other parts of the mine, allowing them to escape.
"Had any delays occurred at Quecreek in warning the miners, tragic results might have ensued,'' MSHA wrote in published background material for the new rule.
All nine of the trapped miners were rescued.