The Utah Mine Safety Commission has prepared a draft of recommendations to be presented to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Gov. Huntsman formed the commission after the events at Crandall Canyon. The commission has been on a fact finding mission since their formation in August of 2007. They have heard countless testimony the past months and a technical advisory subcommittee was also formed to lend technical expertise to the commission.
At the Jan. 11 meeting a total of 47 recommendations were gone over on an individual basis and the merits of passing each one on to the governor was discussed.
The commission has been working under a deadline to ensure the recommendations can be sent to the governor before the legislative session begins on Jan. 22. The recommendations will not come without a price tag. The legislature will determine to the extent the mine commission recommendations can be implemented with the appropriation of funding.
Commission chairman Scott Matheson started the deliberations by discussing the recommendations which the commission members basically agreed upon. The recommendation causing the most discussion centered on whether an Office of Coal Mine Safety within the Utah State Labor Commission should be established.
Matheson said, "When the governor set up the Utah Mine Commission in the aftermath of the Crandall Canyon disaster, the question was is the state doing what it should to promote mine safety? In my opinion the state is not doing what it should be doing. The role of the state is limited and the state could do better. We have agreed on a variety of recommendations. Should the state establish an office of coal mine safety, that might be placed in the Labor Commission? If we go with a number of regulations, there needs to be a place in state government for accountability. We have concluded the Office of Coal Mine Safety should be modest, but I think we need it for leadership and accountability. Dispersing responsibility is not a good way to proceed. The State of Utah and the Mine Safety and Health Administration should enter into discussions and partnerships."
Matheson said the state needs to learn what goes into mine plan approval and learn what steps should be taken to supplement what MSHA does and do what's best for the state. They have explored this approach with MSHA officials and they like the idea of a partnership. This idea needs to be explored with a larger and more diverse source than the mine commission. It needs to be explored at the legislative level. The idea is to supplement what MSHA does, not duplicate.
The first recommendation was: The state of Utah should establish an Office of Coal Mine Safety in the Utah Labor Commission with a mandate to maximize coal mine safety, coal mine accident prevention, and effective accident response. The specific responsibilities of the OCMS are set forth in various recommendations listed below.
The second recommendation was in establishing a program of safety inspections of underground coal mines in Utah to supplement MSHA inspections. This recommendation was stricken from what will be sent to the governor. It was determined that anything dealing with mine inspections should be addressed before a larger body with authority, namely the legislature.
The third recommendation agreed upon by the commission was: The state should enter into an innovative enhanced safety partnership with MHSA to ensure the safety of Utah mines. This partnership would involve state officials from the Office of Coal Mine Safety in direct participation with the MSHA inspection and plan approval program to understand the safety steps MSHA has taken since the Crandall Canyon tragedy and to determine how the state can reinforce MSHA safety efforts in Utah mines. The OCMS should pay particular attention to MSHAs expertise and staffing to address bump prone conditions in Utah mines. The OCMS should obtain access to inspection reports, plans submitted for approval, and other information received by MSHA in the regular course of business. The state and MSHA should collaborate on how the state can enhance safety for Utah miners and fulfill OCMS's safety preference for "additional pair of eyes." This collaboration will include study of the state's role in mine plan approval and the feasibility of a state inspection program in light of results of the Crandall Canyon accident investigations.
The fourth recommendation was the state OCMS should be tasked with a watchdog monitoring function to ensure that MSHA is carrying out its inspection and other safety responsibilities to the full extent of MSHAs safety mandate. This role would include monitoring MSHA inspection activities and collection and analysis of MSHA reports to identify and address areas of attention for miner safety and accident prevention. The state should work with the Utah congressional delegation and other states to secure MSHA cooperation and if necessary, federal legislation that directs MSHA to cooperate with the state oversight function.
The state OCMS should initiate a coal mine safety roundtable series for coordination and information sharing about safety issues and concerns. Participation in the safety roundtable would include, but not be limited to representatives of MSHA, state and federal land management agencies, coal operators, and miner representatives. The roundtable should meet quarterly to ensure that safety issues are fully discussed and addressed by all participants having an interest in coal mine production and safety. The roundtable initiative should also serve as a working group to develop a more efficient regulatory framework for the coal operators. Having to respond to multiple agencies with overlapping jurisdictions requires time and resources that could possibly be devoted more effectively to safety concerns. The state should propose to MSHA that the roundtable serve as a pilot project focused on Utah to develop a more streamlined regulatory process.
More of the mine commission recommendations will be in part XVIII of the Crandall Canyon Mine series in the Jan. 22 edition of the Emery County Progress.