April 23, 2010 | Barb Carr

Operating with Incident Risk: 2 Mines Show How Safety Practices Vary Widely in U.S.

Often one dealing with many industries hears this phase…

“Risk is just part of the job! It’s not going to get done unless someone does it!”

Here a couple of excerpts from recent article in the New York Times comparing two mines 200 miles apart.

“Coal mining carries inherent risks. But the numerous and very public violations and fatalities at Massey-owned mines over the years may leave the impression that all mines are run this way — that all mines leave coal shafts open and fail to exhaust methane properly. They do not. A comparison between Massey’s safety practices and those of other operators in the coal industry shows sharp differences, helping to explain why Massey mines led the list of those warned by federal regulators that they could face greater scrutiny because of their many violations.”

“A unit of the TECO Coal Corporation operates a mine with the all-business name of E3-1. Like Upper Big Branch, it is nonunion. It has fewer employees, produces three-quarters the amount of bituminous coal, uses an arguably riskier method of mining — and, its operators say, emits 25 percent more methane a day.”

“The differences in safety practices between TECO and Massey are often stark. Where TECO workers rigorously inspect the mine for safety problems before every shift, Upper Big Branch has had dozens of violations related to pre-shift examinations, some for failing to conduct them at all, others for not documenting that they had been done. All TECO miners get weeks of safety training, but in September an inspector ordered dozens of Massey miners out of Upper Big Branch because they lacked proper training.”

“Several years ago, TECO fired a mine foreman for failing to rehang a ventilation curtain that had fallen to the mine floor and contributed to a fire. At Upper Big Branch, inspectors more than once found curtains improperly hung or lying on the mine floor, a practice workers said was routine and encouraged because the plastic sheets get in the way of equipment.”

Finally this quote…

“Many of the miners suspected they knew a major source of the gas buildup: a coal shaft, unused for years, that passed down through several old mines before reaching theirs. According to a longtime foreman at the mine, who provided previously undisclosed details of its operation, the shaft was never properly sealed to prevent the methane above from being sucked into Upper Big Branch.

Instead, the foreman said, rags and garbage were used to create a poor man’s sealant, which he said allowed methane to permeate the mine, displacing much-needed oxygen.”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/us/23mine.html?pagewanted=1

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