Let’s face it, mining is a dangerous job, and if you’re a miner, you fully understand the risks of working miles beneath the Earth’s surface better than most. Nevertheless, beefing up safety requirements can put some mining professionals at ease. The long-anticipated deadline has finally arrived for mining companies to fully comply with the mandates set forth in the “Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act”—signed on June 16, 2006 by President George W. Bush after mining disasters that same year claimed the lives of 19 miners in West Virginia and Kentucky.
The act requires operators of the roughly 540 underground mines operating in the U.S. to add wireless communications technology capable of tracking miners and communicating with them if a disaster occurs. The act also requires mining companies to store two hours of breathable air per miner at 30-minute intervals along underground escape routes. Airtight refuge chambers are also required that must be able to keep miners alive for 96 hours. Training requirements have been raised, and accident reports must be made within 15 minutes of occurring. The number of rescue teams trained to enter mines and extract trapped miners has increased 50 percent.
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Joe Main, director of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), says in regard to companies who have not met the deadline requirements, “We’re going to find out. Mines are required to have their communications systems in and we’re going to be applying the full strength of the Mine Act.”
As of April, the MSHA reported that 64 percent of the industry had not yet fully installed the required wireless equipment.
"I will temper what I'm saying with this: We know that this is new technology, some of it just came through the pipelines in the last few months," he said. "There's going to be glitches.”
It is estimated that the mining industry in the U.S. has invested $1 billion to meet the new regulatory requirements. However, I’m sure the nation’s 46,000 underground miners can breathe a little easier knowing that in case of a catastrophe, their likelihood of survival is much higher than before.