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Front Page » February 12, 2008 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon mine Part XXI
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Hearings on Crandall Canyon mine Part XXI

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Mine Commission makes recommendations to Gov. Huntsman

The Utah Mine Safety Commission made the following recommendations to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and the legislature. This is a continuation of those recommendations.

Recommendation: The legislature should direct the labor commission or another appropriate entity to conduct a thorough review of coal mining recertification programs in other states and seriously consider whether Utah should adopt stricter requirements than it has now. The Coal Mine Act provides that the labor commission's certification of competency for any of the foregoing coal mining occupations "shall expire if the certificate holder ceases to work in the mining industry or a mine related industry for more than five consecutive years." Thus, a certified individual who leaves the industry for more than five years must again pass certification requirements before resuming work in an occupation requiring certification. This standard is generally consistent with the requirements of other coal mining states but not all of them. In light of the rapid development of new technology in underground coal mining, especially on safety matters, the Commission urges consideration of a more rigourous recertification standard.

Recommendation: The state should require certification of new coal miners. Utah currently does not require certification of new coal miners. It should. Each miner, whether a veteran or a novice, can affect safety for everyone in the mine. It is critically important that each newly hired miner learn safe mining procedures and understand the importance of safety before entering the mine. The state needs to assure the community that new miners have the necessary safety skills. This certification requirement reinforce the point that employment as a miner is conditioned on safety. Implementation of this requirement will require legislative amendment of Section 40-2-15 of the Utah Coal Mine Act.

Recommendation: The state should strengthen the miner certification panel overseeing coal miner safety testing and certification. The coal miner training and certification program should be strengthened by augmenting the structure and role of the existing miner certification panel within the labor commission. Under the existing statute, the certification panel is comprised entirely of coal miners and managers, and the panel's authority is limited to overseeing the certification process. The certification panel does not include representatives of the institutions that actually train miners, resulting in difficulties in coordinating the training and certification processes. To resolve this problem the commission recommends that representatives of the training institutions, CEU, WETC and perhaps the Department of Mining Engineering should be added as members of the certification panel. Implementation of this requirement will require legislative amendment of Section 40-2-14 of the Utah Coal Mine Act.

Recommendation: The state should strengthen and stabilize the Labor Commission's certification program. This funding is inadequate and uneven. For example, since the Crandall Canyon events, the number of certification examinations has declined by 25 percent. In light of the important role miner certification plays in overall coal mine safety, and the need to augment the membership and role of the miner certification panel, the Commission recommends that the legislature appropriate ongoing general funds sufficient to allow the labor commission to maintain a competent and effective certification program, including a full-time testing and certification coordinator in Price.

WETC and the labor commission should develop strategies in the training and testing and certification programs that address language barriers faced by individuals who wish to work in the Utah mining industry. WETC and the labor commission should investigate how other coal states have addressed this issue.

Recommendation: The state should recognize that the local law enforcement agency is the primary first responder for public safety purposes when an industrial accident occurs in Utah, including a mining accident.

Recommendation: The Office of Coal Mine Safety should be the lead state office in the emergency response to a coal mine accident. It should work to develop a blueprint to guide state government assistance in the rescue and recovery operations following a coal mine accident. The Commission recognizes that the emergency response to coal mine accidents involves a complex system of federal, state and local government agencies, coal operator mine rescue teams, and local community support. The accounts presented to the Commission about the emergency response to the Crandall Canyon disaster were favorable in terms of state and local government support. The leadership provided by Gov. Huntsman and Sheriff LaMar Guymon was singled out for commendation. However, in his appearance before the Commission, Gov. Huntsman indicated that the state response was based largely on ad hoc decision making and that coordination and communications involving MSHA and the mine operator were deficient. The governor called for development of a "blueprint" to guide state and local government in any future critical incidents and the Commission agrees.

Recommendation: The state should adopt a legal requirement for mine operators to notify the Office of Coal Mine Safety immediately when a mine emergency situation occurs. The Office of Coal Mine Safety should collaborate with the mine operators and MSHA to develop the procedures for a rapid notification system.

Recommendation: The Division of Homeland Security should work with the Office of Coal Mine Safety, appropriate state agencies, and local government officials to develop a mine accident emergency response plan for state government using the incident management model and the state emergency operations plan. The plan should provide the guidance the governor has requested and the flexibility needed for the variety and uncertainty of circumstances that could be faced. The elements of the plan should include assistance to local law enforcement, assistance with mine rescue equipment and resources, telecommunications services, equipment and personnel transport, and state workforce and human services resources. Formulation of the plan should take account of all the state agencies and personnel involved in the Crandall Canyon response and should inventory all of the potential state government support that might be helpful in a mine accident emergency. The plan should identify the Office of Coal Mine safety in cooperation within local law enforcement authority, as the responsible on-site agency for requesting emergency assistance from the Division of Homeland Security. The coal operators should be consulted to determine how the state can assist in implementation of their emergency response plans. A current effort in the state of New Mexico may provide a useful model in developing this plan.

The state should establish a Mine Safety Emergency Response Center at WETC near Helper to facilitate emergency response training and to house specialized emergency response equipment, such as jet engine fire suppression, gas chromatography, and special tunneling equipment. The center would serve underground coal mines in Utah and possibly Wyoming and Colorado and could ultimately serve other mining operations in the Intermountain West.

It would provide classroom and field space for advanced emergency response training for industry stakeholders, including executive management, training for community and agency support networks for the mining industry, and specialized safety and rescue equipment that could be used by all participating mines. The center would be integrated with the WETC training program and would concentrate on mining disaster prevention, emergency preparedness, and emergency response and rescue.

Recommendation: The Office of Coal Mine Safety should consult with Utah coal operators to determine whether the state could assist in strengthening mine rescue team capacity. Subjects for consideration would include whether the state should provide emergency medical technical training for team members EMT personnel as members of the team, facilitate mine rescue simulations and competitions and deliver communication technology and coordination for mine rescue operations.

Recommendation: The Office of Coal Mine Safety should represent Utah State government at the incident command center for any Utah mine disaster. The officials should be prepared to assist with information management, decision making, and coordination for state government logistical support during the emergency rescue and response period.

Recommendation: The state should work with MSHA and the coal operators to develop a clear set of protocols for timely and accurate communications with the families of mine victims and with the press and public in the context of a Utah coal mine accident. The families of the Crandall Canyon victims and the media should be invited to provide comment and suggestions on these protocols. The provision of information to the families of the trapped miners and rescuers as well as to the press and public during the Crandall Canyon events has been criticized for lack of timeliness, consistency, coordination, and leadership. MSHA is designated under current law to take the lead in this area, but that responsibility was performed unevenly at Crandall Canyon, at least in part due to the conduct of the owner of the coal company. Under these challenging conditions, it is important that all parties understand and follow their roles. The families in particular are entitled to the best available information provided with professionalism, accuracy, and respect.

Recommendation: The state should work closely with MSHA and local community leaders to develop a comprehensive support plan for families of mine accident victims. Although MSHA currently takes the lead in this area under federal law, it was clear from the Crandall Canyon experience and other mine accidents that local communities and local responders play key roles and should continue to do so based on their knowledge of their own communities. Pending federal legislative proposals call for adoption of a family support model similar to the National Safety Transportation Safety Board system, which is considered the strongest federal model. Although this step may be an improvement, state and local officials should insist that plans and understandings be reached in advance to preserve the role of the local community in providing support to families of mine accident victims.

Recommendation: The state should join with other coal states in urging Congress to consider a mine accident investigation system that operates independently of MSHA. Conducting the accident investigation outside the agency would assure families of victims, their communities and the public that the investigation is conducted in a thorough and impartial manner.

This recommendation is presented as a principle of good government and takes as its model the investigation of aviation accidents by the National Transportation Safety Board rather than the Federal Aviation Administration. It should not be construed as a reflection on the professionalism or competence of the MSHA investigation of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster.

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