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Legislature establishes Office of Coal Mine Safety

Utah lawmakers have established the Office of Coal Mine Safety in the Utah Labor Commission. The office will be headed by a director appointed by the Labor Commissioner. The legislation establishing the new office is the by-product of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster which claimed the lives of six miners last Aug. 6, along with three others killed 10 days later while they attempted to rescue their fellow workers.

Three weeks after the mine collapse, the Governor appointed an eight-member Utah Mine Safety Commission charging it with the duty to assess the state's role in coal mine safety, accident prevention, and emergency response.

The Mine Safety Commission included distinguished academics, Senator Mike Dmitrich and Representative Kay McIff of the Utah Legislature, representatives of the mining community, Mayors Gordon and Piccolo from Huntington and Price, as well as former United States Senator Jake Garn.

The Commission had the advice and assistance of agency staff and technical experts from around the country. The Commission also heard from the public at hearings held in Utah's coal country and in Salt Lake City.

The Mine Safety Commission issued its report on Jan. 23 of this year. Senate Bill 224 sponsored by Dmitrich in the Senate and McIff in the House is the outgrowth of the January 23 report. The purpose of SB 224 is to provide a statutory framework and authority to implement the Commission's recommendations.

The Act explicitly states a legislative intent to maximize coal mine safety, prevent coal mine accidents, and provide for effective coal mine accident response.

To accomplish that legislative intent, SB 224 establishes an Office of Coal Mine Safety in the Utah Labor Commission as a means of coordinating Utah's efforts to promote coal mine safety, with specific attention to: a system of reporting conditions in coal mines that may be dangerous, with protection against retaliation for individuals who make such reports; cooperation with educational and other organizations; coal miner certification and recertification programs; establishing a relationship with the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration to allow state participation in MSHA's regulation, inspection, and plan approval systems; and development of emergency response and communication plans.

The legislation also establishes a Coal Mine Technical Advisory Council. This Council will, for the first time, bring together individuals with experience in Utah's coal mining industry, academic experts, emergency service providers, and government representatives. The Council will apply its expertise to advise the Labor Commission and the Legislature on ways to improve coal mine safety and accident response.

B 224 also contains provisions dealing with coal miner certification. Many of these provisions represent a recodification of existing law. They emphasize the importance of having a well-trained workforce with a "safety-first" mentality. It is anticipated that the College of Eastern Utah will play a key role in miner training and certification.

Finally, the legislation charts a conservative course that allows Utah to work with and supplement the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration rather than duplicate it.

The Act contemplates adding a second set of eyes in areas where the danger is greatest and a second set of ears to the concerns of experienced miners and others who live with safety issues on an ongoing basis.

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