The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has discovered some self-rescuing devices used by mines during emergencies are defective.
MSHA is requiring mine operators to immediately arrange to replace or retrofit certain self-contained, self-rescue breathing units.
Ten CSE SR-100 self-rescue units manufactured before June 1994 have been found with deteriorated breathing hoses, a critical safety defect.
David McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, believes it is critical all of these units are replaced immediately.
"Every underground coal miner knows that these devices may make the difference between life and death in a mine fire or explosion," said McAteer. "We have found 10 deteriorated hoses in older units. Operators need to replace these older units as fast as possible."
The defective units, as identified by MSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and CSE Corporation were all manufactured in 1990 through 1993 and had hoses made of natural rubber. Starting in June 1994, CSE Corporation used a silicone rubber breathing hose in its units. No deterioration has been found in newer, silicon rubber hoses. More than 4,000 units have been examined with manufacture dates from 1990 to 1997.
According to Frank Self, safety and health manager for Trapper Coal Mine, the defective devices are not used at Trapper Mine.
"We use a similar device on the drag line, but they are not the brand that has been found to be defective," said Self. "We checked them out last week. MSHA is good about letting us know about these type of things."
Representatives from Colowyo Mine also said the defective units were not used by miners at the Colowyo Mine.
Michael Ludlow, general manager of Twenty Mile Coal Mine near Oak Creek in Routt County, said even though the mine doesn't use the defective units, similar devices miners use have been tested.
"We do not use that make or model of device," said Ludlow. "We feel that the devices that we use are safe. They have been tested and were found to work properly."
MSHA inspectors will visit all underground coal mines where CSE SR-100 devices are used to make sure operators know about the problem and take immediate action, according to MSHA officials. MSHA is setting Jan. 31 as the deadline for replacing all affected devices. Mine operators will need to obtain a purchase order to secure an adequate number of retrofitted or replacement devices.
MSHA is also demanding all operators immediately inform all underground miners about the problem and explain the actions being taken to make sure mines have adequate devices on hand.
MSHA wants all mine operators using the SR-100 units dated before June 1994 to make as many additional devices available to them as soon as possible.
An MSHA coordinator will be available to collect and share information about which mines need replacement units and where extra units are available.
The need for these devises historically has been higher during the winter months, according to McAteer.
"We are in the midst of the winter-alert season when, historically, mine fires and explosions have been more numerous," said McAteer. "Every miner needs to know that the SCSR unit at hand will provide protection in an emergency. The mining community needs to take quick action to replace self rescuers that might be defective."
MSHA was alerted to the defective units after a miner opened an SCSR unit during a fire and found holes in the breathing hose.
Federal mining regulations require all underground coal miners be supplied with a breathing device that will provide at least one hour of oxygen in a mine emergency such as a fire or explosion.