On April 5, 2010, an explosion inside the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia killed 29 miners. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States in 40 years. An investigation into the contributing causes of that explosion resulted in a fundamental shift in the way hazards are found and fixed. Namely, who is responsible for finding and fixing them.
There are now new mining rules that are meant to prevent something like that from ever happening again. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently published new rules that will require mine operators to identify and correct hazardous conditions and violations of nine health and safety standards that pose the greatest risk to minors. These nine standards are in response to the exact type of conditions and violations that led to the deaths of the 29 miners, and meant to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
These nine standards address many different areas: Ventilation, Methane, Roof Control, Combustible Materials, Rock Dust, Equipment Guarding and more. These standards are consistent with preventing the very type of hazards that, according to an MSHA investigation report, contributed to the cause of the explosion that resulted in the deaths of the 29 miners at Upper Big Branch. A lack of compliance with these standards will now hopefully result in only a violation, not a death.
Joseph A. Main, the head of the MSHA, says the reason for these new rules are because his inspectors simply cannot be at every mine every day. And since the MSHA cannot inspect the mines on a daily basis for safety, someone has to. And now, that someone is the mine operators themselves. Main says these new rules require mine operators to be in a proactive role, instead of simply reactive when it comes to the safety of themselves and their employees.
To summarize, mine operators will now be the ones primarily responsible for finding and fixing hazards that violate the nine standards. It’s a significant shift in responsibility. But if it saves lives, miners and mine owners alike will be better for it.
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