Making underground workplace safer

A comprehensive report has been issued by the Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission, which America’s National Mining Association (NMA) established in March 2006 as an independent commission. The commission’s Chairman, Dr. R. Larry Grayson, publicly released the commission’s findings and recommendations at a mine safety meeting in Pittsburgh, held by the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate’s Coal Mining Task Force. Grayson is a former miner who most recently chaired the Department of Mining and Nuclear Engineering at University of Missouri-Rolla.

The peer-reviewed report, Improving Mine Safety Technology and Training: Establishing US Global Leadership is available at

In a letter to James F. Roberts, Chairman of the NMA, Grayson noted: “As the industry entered 2006, it was poised to continue a record of continuous improvement in mine safety. That record was tragically interrupted by fatalities that have rocked the industry and caused NMA and its members to recommit to returning the US coal industry to a global mine safety leadership role with a goal of achieving zero fatalities and zero serious injuries in the US underground coal mining industry. Our report outlines a way to achieve this goal. Specifically, it details a comprehensive approach to increase significantly the odds of survival for miners in emergency situations and to create a culture of prevention to address significant hazards that lead to injuries.

“At the heart of our approach is a call for a new paradigm for ensuring mine safety: One that focuses on systematic and comprehensive risk management as the foundation from which all life-safety efforts emanate. Additionally, the report recommends:

  • Better technology in communications, mine rescue training, and escape and protection of miners
  • More frequent and realistic training focusing on key principles
  • A broadened and more professional emergency response and mine rescue capability
  • Development of a culture that supports safe production at the business core.

“In support of these overriding recommendations, which the commission members made unanimously, are 75 specific recommendations to the industry, including interim steps that can be taken until new technologies, where appropriate, are developed and approved for the underground coal mining environment.

“To reach our recommendations, the commission looked at existing research and best practice training examples. We administered a Training for Preparedness opinion survey and examined the requirements of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act, signed by the president in June, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) Emergency Temporary Standards, which MSHA issued in March, along with the existing regulatory framework. We also utilized information from published literature, technical reports and the expertise of individual commission members, and we utilized lessons learned by NASA and the Navy nuclear submarine fleet.

“Finally, we analyzed underground coal mining emergency incidents involving fires or explosions over a 25-year period, looking at common weaknesses and persistent problems, pinpointing unaddressed gaps and synthesizing insights gained from them. All of this has led to a comprehensive look at underground coal mining safety; how it has improved, what remains to be done and how to fulfill our promise to return each miner home safely everyday.

“Today’s underground coal industry is fast-changing. Miners work in an increasingly sophisticated and complex environment where the jobs of management, miners, contractors, emergency responders, mine safety inspectors and other mining professionals demand a full range of critical skills. Recent tragedies in underground coal mining present a serious challenge that demands new insights. Accordingly, the prevention of mine emergencies and accidents of all types require comprehensive approaches, based on the new insights, to reflect the reality of modern mining.

“The commission has attempted to highlight some of these insights and to provide a framework for the industry as it pursues its mine safety objectives.”

Roberts and NMA President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz responded saying: "NMA applauds the effort of chairman Grayson and all members of the Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission. They have provided a tremendous service to the US underground coal mining industry and to all who are committed to further strengthening coal mining safety. By calling on a broad array of safety, technology, training and mine rescue experts from academia, labour, the mining industry and government, the commission gathered the very best analysis and information on how we can achieve additional improvements in safety and mine rescue performance in an ever-changing coal mining environment.

"The commission’s recommendations are both near-term and far-reaching in scope. NMA and its members already have begun preparatory work on implementing some of the commission’s recommendations, and we look forward to further work on its key findings.

"While the mining industry has achieved dramatic improvements in safety performance-by cutting the rate of injuries and fatalities in US coal mines in half over the last 15 years-the tragedies in America’s coalfields this year led us to take a new look at how we approach everyone’s responsibility to operate and act safely. We challenged the commission to come back to us with a comprehensive analysis and meaningful recommendations by the end of this year. They have met that challenge, and the work is now up to us and those with whom we share responsibility for coal mining safety."

Under the Chairmanship of Dr. R. Larry Grayson, the commission members were: Mark N. Beauchamp, Mine Rescue Trainer, Twentymile Coal Co; Anthony Bumbico, Vice President of Safety, Arch Coal; Stanley I. Cohn, Executive Vice President, Concepts to Operations, Inc; Dr. Amy K. Donahue, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, University of Connecticut; J. Brett Harvey, President and CEO, CONSOL Energy; Dr. Jeffrey L. Kohler, Associate Director for Mining and Construction, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; Dr. Thomas Novak, Chairman, Department of Mining and Mineral Engineering, Virginia Tech; Cecil E. Roberts, Jr, President of the United Mine Workers of America; and H. F. (Buddy) Webb, Mine Rescue Trainer, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.