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Front Page » October 2, 2007 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Iii, Utah Mi...
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Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Iii, Utah Mine Safety Commission

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Members of the Utah Mine Safety Commission at the meeting in Huntington on Sept. 25. Sen. Mike Dmitrich, Jake Garn, Scott Matheson Jr., Dennis O'Dell and Price Mayor Joe Piccolo sit on the commission along with Hilary Gordon, Huntington mayor, Kay McIff, John Baza and David Litvin.

The Utah Mine Safety Commission held their first meeting in Emery County on Sept. 25. The commissioners met at the Huntington Elementary. The commission is made up of Joe Piccolo, Hilary Gordon, Kay McIff, Dennis O'Dell, Scott Matheson Jr. , Jake Garn, Mike Dmitrich, John Baza and David Litvin. Scott Matheson Jr. is the chairman of the group formed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in the wake of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster.

Matheson explained the purpose of the group to those present. Gov. Huntsman assembled the mine commission for the purpose of investigating the state's role in mine safety accident response. They are not conducting an investigation of what happened at Crandall Canyon mine. Their focus is to make a recommendation on the state's role in mine safety and questions consistent with that. The governor wanted the commission to hold public hearings to give members of the public the forum to have input and make a contribution to the communities to make things better here. The commission is here to listen and learn.

The commission arranged for coal mine operators to comment regarding coal mine safety and accident response.

Matheson said in their first meeting which was held at the Western Energy Training Center in Price they heard from various representatives on what the state's role has been in the past. They also heard from MSHA representatives who told their role and about their investigation of the mine disaster.

Ray Bridge is the safety manager from Arch Coal, Dugout mine. He said Arch Coal is the second largest coal producer in the nation. They have a total reserve of 3.7 billion tons of coal. Their coal is 100 percent low sulphur. They meet 7 percent of the fuel needs for electricity in the United States. Arch Coal is a leader in safety. They operate Powder River Basin, Coal Creek, Skyline, Dugout, SUFCO and West Elk. Skyline is a longwall operation with one continuous miner section and produces 3 million tons annually. SUFCO in Salina Canyon is a long wall operation with two continuous miner sections for 8 million tons annually.

Bridge pointed out they received the Sentinels of Safety Award from MSHA which is a longstanding and prestigious award for going an entire year without a lost time injury. SUFCO has also received safety and an Earth Day award. Arch pays out 17.8 million in royalties to the state of Utah. Employees receive approximately $84,000 in annual wages and benefits. Employees at Arch have an average age of 42 years and 10 years of service. In addition to the miners employed, 350 truck drivers are employed hauling the coal produced by Arch.

Bridge said environmental health and safety is a core value for them and they work hard to be injury free. "Environmental Health and Safety is part of every decision we make," said Bridge.

Matheson asked Bridge his opinion on the MSHA inspection process. Bridge reported to date this year they have had 245 inspector days. There is literally an inspector every day and close to every day during the quarterly inspections. There have been 103 spot inspections which include inspections for methane, noise and dust inspections, roof control inspections, electrical inspections, diesel inspections, etc. They have 75 pieces of diesel equipment and each piece takes 30-45 minutes to examine. They have had three inspectors out of Pittsburgh and three from Price at the various inspections.

"If a miner feels there is a hazard they can call a hot line number and the incident will be thoroughly investigated. In my opinion MSHA does a very good job with inspections and I have been involved for many years," said Bridge.

Bridge stated in his opinion before when the state was involved in inspections there wasn't much substance to state inspections. He believes money should be put into education and training. MSHA used to do a better job of education, but now they are strictly enforcement.

Matheson asked Bridge if he was aware of the seismic monitoring with the University of Utah. "Are any of your mines part of that," asked Matheson.

Bridge replied all of the mines are tracked by the UofU. Longwall operations have seismic events on a weekly basis. It is designed to cave behind the longwall. The plot mechanic plots on a daily basis the path of the long wall. It shows pillar size and seismic events. Bridge said they are very active with monitoring seismic activity.

Bridge was asked what happens when an employee doesn't work safely. He responded they spent $2.2 million in safety programs. They send six people each week to Grand Junction for safety training and this rotates through all of the employees. They also have a no name, no blame program where they can get to the root of injuries. They don't terminate employees for unsafe practices, but rather work with them to make them a safe employee and aware of how their behavior affects others. Their bonus program also focuses on safety and not production. The commission requested Bridge put together a list for them containing all areas for which inspections occur.

Bridge said they have three safety employees that dedicate their time to MSHA inspectors and company inspectors. This ties those people up and he would like them to be able to interact more with employees to look for violations and concerns from the hourly employees. Bridge said equipment is safety checked every day.

Bridge said MSHA reviews rock plans and MSHA is tough and the mining company has to have everything lined up thoroughly and methodically why they do what they do and must be ready to back it up.

Bridge also pointed out there are variations within the same mine to the depth of cover.

The next presenter was Allen Childs, owner of Talon Resources. He said he is no longer working in a coal mine, but is now a small business owner in a mining related area. He employs 20 people. He said everyone is affected by the mining industry either directly or indirectly. It is an important industry. When things are going well, that's great, but when there is a hiccup it's prudent not to go on a witch hunt. "MSHA is not responsible for our safety. They are responsible for enforcing the existing regulations. There is room for improvement," said Childs.

Childs said with the current disaster he is afraid of the knee jerk reactions that can occur. After the Wilberg disaster he was hired at Genwal and they submitted a mine map and the plan was rejected because the lines on the map were different thicknesses. Don't get so afraid that you can't make responsible decisions. The industry is being affected. There are casualties in this disaster, don't let there be casualties in the regulatory area. We must be careful how we handle it.

Childs said there needs to be training and education. There are a lot of misconceptions and lack of education about the industry out in the general public. "We need to be proactive and recognize problems. We need to orchestrate and establish the best programs and implement them to make sure the employees are hearing it. How do you know they are getting trained? Employees need to know how it all works. They need to know about gravity. They need to know how a mine operates. They need site specific training as no mines are the same. We need to learn to communicate effectively with employees. Mines have their own cultures. Miners need to know of their rights. They need to be protected from discrimination. They have a right to training. They have a right to be informed and participate in legal proceedings. Coal mining is not a hobby, we employ people. We are responsible for them. It is a for profit organization. What areas of the mine are inexperienced miners allowed access to and at what point do they become experienced miners. Jobs should be based on training and experience.

"Supervisors are key to an operation, they can't be given enough training. They have a significant task ensuring the safety of those in their charge. Training should be site specific for new miner training," said Childs.

Childs was asked if he would support the use of the WETC as a site for a custom fit training for miners. Childs said if it was a program everyone would endorse he would support it, but he doesn't want to see any of the responsibility for safety training being taken from the operators. Operators need ownership, it can't be put together behind closed doors.

Dmitrich said he wants everyone involved. He sees every mine operator having a member on the advisory board which sets the curriculum.

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