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Front Page » January 22, 2008 » Opinion » Editor's notes
Published 3,320 days ago

Editor's notes

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In the months since the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, for me it has never been far from my mind. I have been attending the Utah Mine Safety Commission meetings. One of which was in Emery County in Huntington. One in Price and one at the Western Energy Training Center northeast of Helper. The remainder have been held in Salt Lake City. These meetings have been very informative for the commission. They had a lot to learn and a relatively short time to do it. Gov. Jon Huntsman was very specific in wanting recommendations before the start of the legislative session.

Many of the recommendations will come with a price tag. The legislature will have to determine what to fund and how all that will work, but the job of the commission was to examine and make recommendations. I think they have done that. They have heard a lot of testimony most of which has been taken under advisement and appears in the recommendations.

Some of the recommendations are just an acknowledgement that problems, with hydrocarbons for example, should be addressed. Problems with deep mining should be addressed. Investments should be made into research that can make mining safer.

One point that was emphasized over and over was the development or the enhancement of what's already in place concerning a culture of safety.

Everyone is ultimately responsible for their own safety. Miners shouldn't be afraid to let people know when a situation feels unsafe. They should be able to do this without fear of repercussion. There was so much information in these meetings. I have been doing a series on all the testimony which will probably go on for a few more weeks.

After these recommendations are made and funded, implementation will begin. It will take everyone working together to bring these recommendations to fruition and make all the hard work worthwhile. If it saves one life it will be worth it.

When this disaster happened everyone involved reacted as they have been trained. Miners began searching for the victims. Mine rescue teams were called out and assembled at the mine in a timely manner. Law enforcement was immediately on the scene and set up a perimeter and controlled traffic going to the mine to authorized vehicles only. EMT personnel responded to the scene and stayed there until the search was called off, three weeks later. The Mine Safety and Health Administration responded immediately and set up their command center at the mine site. The mine operator came immediately to the scene to render assistance. All available equipment from other mines needed for the rescue effort was brought to the mine. The Salvation Army arrived a few days later to feed those at the bottom of the road. The Red Cross arrived to help feed miners families.

In this equation, the weak link seemed to be the state. They were the only ones who didn't know what to do to help. They tried, but they didn't know their role. Now they want a role, which is fine. But, I think the role played by everyone associated with this disaster was handled in a very admirable manner.

I spent a lot of time on the mine disaster. I personally think everything was handled very professionally. But, we can do better. Not that I think anything was done wrong, but, better in the sense that moving forward in the mining industry and advancing in technology and safety will be a good thing.

I don't think we need more regulation and rules. We need to enforce the rules we already have in place. I know MSHA mine inspectors and I can tell you they do a good job and are on the mine sites a tremendous amount of time each year. There are 17 mine inspectors working from the Price office. This is very good coverage of the mines in our area.

The MSHA investigation into the cause of the Crandall Canyon disaster is yet to come out. I hope the things they learn from that investigation will prevent such disasters in the future.

Much can be done, the recommendations of the mine commission are very valid and will be a huge step in the right direction. The mine operators always seem to tell a different story from those who do the actual work. The stories of the workers need to be told. They need to feel free to express concerns and issues within a mine. No one should have to fear being fired because they don't believe an area is safe.

During the Crandall Canyon disaster, there were men who asked to be removed from the face and requested to work on the rescue effort in another facet. As things turned out, those requests saved these mens lives. It's so hard to predict what a mountain is going to do. All the technology in the world couldn't have prevented that mountain from coming in, but technology could have sounded a warning. And, when that mountain came in, perhaps no one would have been there to be caught up in the destruction.

There are many lessons to be learned as we move forward. These recommendations will save lives. They will continue to propel mining forward as it becomes a safer industry.

I hope coal mining continues in our counties for a long time to come and that coal miners and their industry will some day get the respect it deserves.

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January 22, 2008
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