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Harrowing repeats of history in Jharkhand mines
September 30, 2005
Ranchi: Another mine accident has occurred. Ten more hapless people who had taken to working in an illegal coal mine in Jharkhand to make two ends meet have died. But no lessons have been learned.
If one goes through the history of mine accidents in India, most have occurred due to the indifferent attitude of coal companies. The highest number of deaths has taken place in illegal mines, often due to inundation.
But safety measures remain only on paper. The death of 10 illegal miners, mostly women, in Rajrappa colliery of Central Coalfield Limited (CCL) Thursday is just the tip of the iceberg.
According to coal companies, more than 1,300 miner deaths have occurred over the years, of which 827 were in illegal mines. Over 500 died when mines got inundated.
Coal companies often carry out illegal mining in collision with police. In Jharkhand, three coal companies operate besides Tata - CCL, Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) and Eastern Coalfield Limited (ECL).
"We have several times informed police about illegal mining, but no action is taken. Anyone can find illegal miners carrying coal in colliery areas," an official of CCL told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Some say illegal mining is going on at over 200 abandoned mines of the state.
Former union coal minister Shibu Soren has demanded action against CCL and police for Thursday's mine accident. "Illegal mining takes place due to the collusion between police and coal companies," Soren said.
The first big mine accident took place in 1912 when 23 miners lost their lives in Phuladitand colliery due to inundation. Perhaps the worst mine accident in India took place in Chasnala in which 375 miners were killed again due to flooding from water from nearby abandoned mines.
In June this year, 14 miners lost their lives in Basgaraha mines of the central Saunda project of CCL. In February 2001, 29 miners lost their lives at the Bagdigi mines of BCCL.
The Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) was constituted to suggest safety measures. But its suggestions are hardly taken into consideration by coal company officials.
In underground mines, DGMS has suggested erecting coal pillars and leaving a 40-meter wall between two mines. But in most mine inundation accidents, these norms were flouted.
When Shibu Soren was coal minister he mooted a plan to legalise illegal mines.
"If illegal mining is legalised, it will fix responsibility on the contractors who get coal extracted from the abandoned mines," Soren had told IANS.
Whenever mine accidents take place in abandoned mines, police register cases against the dead people. Generally the relatives of dead illegal miners take away the bodies to escape the wrath of police.
Thursday's accident took place due to vibration of machines on the upper sides, which made the roof collapse. According to eyewitnesses, villagers took away seven bodies to avoid police action.
Man, 60, Killed in Bulldozer Accident
September 30, 2005
John L. Brinson drowned after his machine fell into a water-filled pit.
FORT GREEN, FL -- A 60-year-old Bartow man was killed Tuesday morning when his bulldozer went into a water-filled pit at a Mosaic Co. phosphate mine in northern Hardee County.
John L. Brinson, a longtime employee, was pronounced dead on arrival at Florida Hospital Wauchula shortly after the accident, said David Townsend, a Mosaic spokesman. The Medical Examiner's Office determined he drowned.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident, said Suzy Bohnert, an agency spokeswoman. She could not say when the report would be available.
Two reports from the Hardee County Sheriff's Office give similar versions of the accident with some slight differences. There were no eyewitnesses to what happened.
The Sheriff's Office was called at 8:55 a.m. Tuesday and was told a man had drowned at the Fort Green phosphate mine off State Road 62 West. Deputy Mark McCoy, the first officer to arrive, at 9:08 a.m., spoke with Jessie Steele, a field supervisor at the mine.
Steele said Brinson had been told to push dirt into the water to clear an opening so a pump could be placed in the water to reduce the water level. Later, another mine employee, Tony McVay, called Steele by radio to report he couldn't see the bulldozer at the pit and that smoke and bubbles were coming from the water, the deputy said.
"Mr. Steele further stated he was unsure if the dirt under the bulldozer gave way or if something medically happened to make the bulldozer go into the water," McCoy said. "He stated the victim had several medical problems and was taking off work once a week to go to the doctor for high blood pressure."
McVay told the deputy he jumped into the water after Steele had told him the bulldozer had been at the pit. He felt the top of the bulldozer's enclosed, air-conditioned cab and dived under water, where he found Brinson partially out of the cab.
"He (McVay) stated he was unsure if the victim attempted to climb out or if the victim's body broke the window when the dozer went over the bank," McCoy said in his report. "He further stated the victim was under water for approximately 15 to 20 minutes."
McVay performed CPR on Brinson until a Hardee fire-rescue team arrived and took over. The firefighters told McCoy they got a weak pulse before taking him to the Wauchula hospital.
McCoy said he inspected the mine pit, where "I observed that bulldozer tracks went straight into the water. I did not observe any indication that the dozer attempted to back up. I also did not observe any indication that the dirt around the bank broke away to cause the dozer to go into the water."
Another report by Detective Jim Hall, who arrived at the mine at about 10 a.m., identified Danny Colding, Brinson's "setup supervisor," as the person who instructed Brinson to begin digging the ramp at 8:52 a.m. Colding then left.
Colding "said that he was gone no more than about five minutes when another employee, Tony McVay, called him on the radio," Hall said.
Hall reported he and his partner, Detective Russell Conley, measured how high the dirt at the edge of the pit was above the water line. The height where the bulldozer went in measured 3 feet, 4 inches, the detective said.
"There was not a gradual slope but rather a steep drop off into the pit," Hall's report said. "It appears that the machine got too close to the edge of the pit, therefore causing the machine to drop into the pit."
The Hardee County Sheriff's Office closed the case after getting the medical examiner's report listing the incident as an accidental drowning, Hall said.
Townsend, the Mosaic spokesman, said Brinson had worked at Fort Green for 33 years, including more than 20 years as a bulldozer operator.
The company has not determined what caused Brinson's bulldozer to go into the water, he said.
According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration Web site, the last fatal accident at Fort Green occurred Dec. 25, 1997, when a security guard from Budd Security in Lakeland drove into a ditch. The cause was undetermined.
Another fatality occurred Sept. 12, 1995, when an electrical employee came in contact with a high-voltage power line.
The Fort Green mine opened in 1975, but accident data is available only from 1983 forward.
Mosaic was formed in October 2004 from the merger of IMC Global Inc. and Cargill Crop Nutrition, a subsidiary of Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis, the world's largest private company. Cargill owns a two-thirds share of Mosaic.
The company employs about 3,000 workers in Polk at four active mines (Four Corners, Fort Green, South Fort Meade and Hookers Prairie) and four fertilizer plants (Bartow, Green Bay, New Wales and South Pierce). It closed its Kingsford mine Sept. 13, which resulted in the loss of 230 jobs.
3 miners suffocated to death in Fujian zinc mine
FUZHOU, Sept. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- Three miners died of suffocation on Friday in a closed zinc mine in China's southeastern province of Fujian during maintenance work.
The mine, belonging to the Longteng Mining Co., Ltd. in Yongding County had been suspended of mining operation for a week. Eight miners entered the mine to check mining equipment on Friday, ignoring the lack of ventilation.
Three workers died on the spot, and the other five workers were still in bad condition in hospital.
So far, the mine has been sealed off. Local government officials are carrying out in-depth investigation in the accident.
More deaths cannot be ruled out in mine accident: police
Rajrappa, Jharkhand: (September 30) Police today said the death toll in yesterday's mine accident could rise while two bodies were recovered from the debris.
However, villagers claimed that the toll could be at least 12 and the dead included mostly women.
Superintendent of Police Hazaribagh told UNI that the two bodies recovered from the debris were identified as Fuggi Devi (32) and Shahja Kumari (18), both residents of the nearby Birhonhe village.
He, however, said the possibility of more deaths could not be ruled out.
''Police also intimated about some villagers carrying away bodies from the debris. Later searches were conducted at some places but we found only a few injured women. Still, I cannot completely rule out this possibility,'' he said.
Meanwhile, some villagers claimed that so far 12 bodies mostly of women had been recovered and 10 bodies were secretly cremated last night fearing legal action for illegally entering a government mine.
They claimed that some poor women from Barkajara and other neighbouring villages were also killed in the accident.
The SP said most of the debris had been cleared by last night and only a small portion was left over to be removed today by CCL workers.
Several people, while illegally digging coal, were trapped in a section of the mine of the Rajrappa project of Central Coalfields Limited in the Hazaribagh district yesterday. The roof of the mine had suddenly collapsed under the pressure of heavy shovel machines operating just above it.
Mine blast rescuers honored for heroism
October 1, 2005
Five men, including one from Wind Ridge, were honored Thursday with Carnegie Medals for heroism for saving injured workers after an explosion in a mine shaft near Cameron, W.Va., over 21/2 years ago.
Soon after the explosion on Jan. 22, 2003, Jack Cain, 44, of Wind Ridge and others rescued two workers from the bottom of a mine shaft, according to the report issued by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission of Pittsburgh. The injured workers, Richard Brumley of Waynesburg and Benjamin Bair of Pentress, W.Va., sustained massive injuries that required lengthy hospital stays.
Workers were drilling a 1,000-foot ventilation shaft for CONSOL Energy's McElroy Mine in Marshall County, W.Va. when a buildup of methane gas exploded. Three workers were killed and three others were injured.
Cain, who was a contract worker for Cambria Drilling Co. of Ebensburg, was working on the surface when the explosion occurred.
Cain did not return phone messages seeking comment Friday evening.
Aaron Meyer, 26, of Cameron, who also sustained injuries in the blast, tried to rescue his crewmates himself, but he had to leave the shaft to ask for help on the surface. Meyer returned to the shaft with Cain, but they determined that moving Brumley and Bair may aggravate their injuries. They returned to the surface and sought additional help from two sherriff's deputies and a paramedic.
While Meyer was being treated for his injuries, Cain went back to the shaft with the two deputies, Brent M. Wharry, 27, of Moundsville, W.Va. and Steven M. Cook, 27, of Glen Dale, W.Va., along with paramedic Donald M. Kline, 32, of Morehead City, N.C. The four men helped hoist Brumley and Bair to the surface.
Meyer only spent one night at a nearby hospital, but he said he continues to suffer the effects of the explosion. The young man has hearing loss and deals with periodic headaches. Meyer said he was surprised when he learned he would receive a Carnegie Medal.
"It's really nothing to be happy about," Meyers said of the explosion experience when reached by telephone Friday. "I wasn't expecting to receive (a medal) for it."
The Carnegie Hero Fund awards $3,500 grants to each awardee or their survivors. The five men in the mine explosion were among 21 people who were honored this week for heroic acts performed around the country. So far this year, the Hero Fund recognized 74 individuals and over the last 101 years, the commission honored 8,943 people.
Since industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie started the fund in 1904, $28.1 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance.
Gas explosion kills 34 miners in Henan
ZHENGZHOU, Oct. 3 (Xinhuanet) -- At least 34 miners were killed in a gas explosion in a coal mine in Hebi City, central China's Henan Province, early Monday morning.
The explosion occurred at 4:45 a.m. in a coal mine belonging to the Henan Hebi Coal (group) company. By 3:20 p.m. 34 people were found dead.
Senior provincial government officials have rushed to the site to direct rescue efforts. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
All bodies found in coal mine explosion in central China
Hebi, Henan Province, Oct. 3 (Xinhuanet) -- All the 34 bodies have been found in the coal mine explosion in central China's Henan Province, according to local sources.
Two bodies have been raised up to the ground by press time, said Feng Shubao, head of the rescue team.
Xu Guangchun, secretary of the provincial committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and vice provincial governor Shi Jichun have rushed to the site to guide the rescue work.
Zhao Tiechui, director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety Supervision, also arrived at the site to direct the rescue efforts, heading an expert team.
Thirty-four miners were killed in a gas explosion in a coal mine in Hebi City, central China's Henan Province, early Monday morning.
The explosion occurred at 4:45 a.m. in a coal mine belonging to the Henan Hebi Coal (group) Company. By 3:20 p.m. 34 people were found dead.
As a state-run mining group, Hebi is one of the key major state-owned enterprises in Henan. Its total assets reached 4.636 billion yuan (565 million US dollars) last year.
Jharkhand cops turn blind eye to mine accidents?
October 4, 2005
It has been five days since more than 10 women died while extracting coal illegally from a Jharkhand mine, but no action has been initiated against the guilty named in the first information reports (FIRs).
It seems that mine accidents don't count for much in the state with police inured to the accidents, whether in legal or illegal mines. In the latest instance on Sep 29, at least 10 women died while extracting coal illegally from the Rajrappa colliery of the Central Coalfield Limited (CCL).
Police registered a complaint against eight people, including three CCL officials, but no action has been initiated till now.
In another accident at CCL's Central Saunda Mines in Hazaribagh in June, FIRs were lodged against eight CCL officials, including its Chief Managing Director R.P. Ritolia. However, all the officials got bail from the lower court and the police are yet to file charge-sheets against them.
Official sources estimate that illegal mining is going on in more than 200 mines under the nose of police.
"If the police take action, it will open a Pandora's box, which in turn could land them in trouble," independent legislator Stephen Marandi said.
Former union coal minister Shibu Soren had also alleged that illegal mining was rampant in the state involving police and CCL authorities.
Last week's incident is a classic example. According to sources, the incident could land many CCL officials in trouble as the company's security guards were posted when the illegal extraction was going on.
But police, instead of taking strict action, just delayed matters to help CCL officials mitigate evidences, sources said.
They constituted a task force, comprising CCL security staff and police, to check illegal mining.
"This move is like asking the cat to protect milk," Marandi said.
34 miners killed in Henan coal pit explosion
Updated: 2005-10-04 07:08
Thirty-four miners were killed in a gas explosion in the early hours of yesterday at a State-owned coal mine in Hebi, a city in Central China's Henan Province.
The accident occurred at 4:45 am when 53 miners were working underground at the No 38 pit of Mine 2 of the Hebi Coal Industry (Group) Corporation Ltd, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The 34 miners were found dead after the gas was ignited, while another 19 scrambled to safety.
"Considering the damage of a gas explosion, the possibility of any survivors underground is slim," said a local official, who only gave his surname, Xiao.
Zhao Tiechui, director of the State Coal Mine Safety Supervision Administration, went to the scene yesterday.
Senior provincial government officials, including Henan Provincial Party Secretary Xu Guangchun and Vice-Governor Shi Jichun, also went to supervise the rescue and investigation.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
As the largest State-owned coal mine in Hebi, the company consists of eight production mines and generates an output of more than 7 million tons a year.
Mine 2 has 3,800 employees.
The accident renewed questions over the safety of coal production in Henan Province.
On October 20, 2004, a gas explosion in the Daping Coal Mine of Pingmo County in the city of Xinmi killed 148 people and injured 32.
By August 31, 17 people had been killed this year in 13 accidents in State-owned collieries and small mines in Henan, according to statistics from the provincial Division of the State Coal Mine Safety Supervision Administration.
The latest tragedy came amidst a nationwide crackdown on corruption to prevent rampant coal mine accidents.
In late August, a harshly worded notice ordered local officials and State company executives with investments in coal mines (not including shares in coal-producing public firms) to withdraw their money by September 22.
By September 26, 497 officials and State company executives had withdrawn investments in coal mines.
Coal mine blast in NW. China traps 14
URUMQI, Oct. 4 (Xinhuanet) -- Fourteen miners were trapped after a coal mine blast occurred on Tuesday morning in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
The accident happened at 10:45 a.m. in Yatuer Colliery, Baicheng County. Eleven miners escaped from the disaster, two of whom were injured, local officials said.
Rescue work is under way.
Thirty-four miners died in a gas explosion at a coal mine in central China's Henan Province early Monday morning.
Two miners found dead in NW China's coal mine blast
URUMQI, Oct. 4 (Xinhuanet) -- Rescuers have found two bodies of trapped miners in a coal mine blast that occurred on Tuesday morning in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Fourteen miners were trapped and 11 escaped from the disaster after the accident happened at 10:45 a.m. in Yatuer Colliery, Baicheng County.
Rescuers said there is slim hope for the other 12 trapped miners to survive.
Rescue work is still under way, but rescuers said another blast is possible because of thick gas density underground. They are taking measures to reduce the density.
Molybdenum mine accident in Liaoning kills 6
SHENYANG, Oct. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Six people were killed by breathing unknown gas Tuesday when they sneaked into a molybdenum mine for illegal mining at Gangtun Township in northeast China's Liaoning Province.
A total of 19 residents in Chaoyang City, also in Liaoning Province, sneaked into the Xiaomagou Molybdenum Mine in Huludao City around 5 p.m. on Tuesday for illegal mining, said an official with the mining section of the Liaoning Provincial Work Safety Bureau.
While walking in a passage of the molybdenum mine, six people were suffocated to death with four others missing. Nine have returned safely to the ground. They were detained by local police.
Molybdenum is a kind of silvery-white, hard and transition metal. It is used in making alloys, electrodes and catalysts.
The cause of the accident is under further investigation.
Remains of 10 Xinjiang coal mine blast victims found
URUMQI, Oct. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Rescuers have discovered the remains of 10 miners who were killed in a coal mine blast occurred on Tuesday morning in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Nine of the corpses have been hoisted to the ground, a local official in charge of the rescue operation said.
Twenty-five miners were working in the coal pit, when the gas explosion took place around 10:47 a.m. Tuesday at a joint-stock coal mine in Yatuer of Baicheng County on the southern slope of Mount. Tianshan. A total of 14 miners were trapped underground. Eleven others escaped.
The searching for the four missing miners is still going on.
The coal mine is a licensed coal production unit with a designed annual capacity of 30,000 tons. It was contracted to a private businessman two years ago. In accordance with relevant state regulations, the coal mine should be closed at the end of this year.
Nation to hand out free coal mine safety handbook
BEIJING, Oct. 5--China is requiring all collieries across the country to distribute free safety handbooks to coal mine workers by the end of this year.
The National General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has called on each coal mine to compile the booklets based on their own circumstances and update them with applicable information.
The agency says the handbook should detail the coal mine worker's rights and obligations, typical colliery disasters and corresponding measures when they occur.
Hot lines for informing illegal behavior and hidden security vulnerabilities must be published with the books.
Additionally, the compilation is required to include matching illustrations and should be concise and comprehensive.
Ten killed, 18 missing in China mine flooding
BEIJING, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Ten people died and 18 were missing when a coal mine in China flooded, Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.
It said the cause of the flooding in the mine in the southwestern province of Sichuan on Tuesday was being investigated.
China has the world's deadliest mining industry and accidents are common.
On Tuesday, an explosion in a coal mine in the northwestern region of Xinjiang killed ten people and trapped 4. At least 43 people were killed the day before after a blast in a mine in the central Heman province.
Floods, explosions, collapses and other mining accidents killed more than 2,700 people in the first half of this year.
Coal accounts for about three-quarters of China's energy and the industry has strained to keep pace with voracious demand from a rapidly growing economy.
UMR hosting Mine Rescue Contest
October 5, 2005
When it comes to going underground, safety is paramount - especially for miners.
Beginning Thursday, mine rescue teams from Idaho to West Virginia will be in town to compete in the annual Mine Rescue Contest at UMR's Experimental Mine.
UMR will also field the only collegiate team in the field. In fact, UMR is the only university in the country to have a mine rescue team.
In the past, UMR has fielded two teams, but due to lack of experience, the school will only field one team.
"It's always us versus industry," John Combs, a senior in mining engineering and captain of the UMR Gold team, said. "We're like a college team playing against professionals. Last year, we beat about half of the teams, though.
"It's a great experience and helped me to get involved in the department. It's also an honor to go against the [professional] teams and beat them a good deal of the time."
Last year, UMR finished fourth out of eight teams at the Rolla competition.
According to Combs, the team placed seventh out of 16 teams at the regional competition in Louisiana.
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) officials were on hand Tuesday and Wednesday to set the mine up for the competition.
"We've got a large stockpile of problems from previous contests to practice on," said Combs.
He noted that the most common disasters in underground mines are fires, but added that modern mining has become very safe.
"The Rolla competition is the only one that I know of that is actually held underground," Combs said. "That makes things different because you are actually underground and the lights are off.
"The regional competition in Louisiana is held in an arena with lots of light."
The teams will be judged by MSHA officials in different areas.
Teams will be rated on how well they follow the basic rules and regulations of the underground rescue problem and a written exam.
"The underground practical problem usually involves an explosion or a fire of some sort where you have to adjust ventilation, which can be tricky," Combs said. "The problem also deals with victims who are hurt, unconscious or dead.
"We are required to perform a primary and secondary survey on the victim, address the problems we identify and then prep them for removal."
Combs said that a recent rule change no longer requires teams to actually remove the victim, but tell the judging official when the victim is ready for transport.
They will also compete in events involving first aid, gas testing and maintaining a self-contained breathing apparatus.
The competition kicks off this evening with teams completing written exams and the team captains' meeting.
Thursday, teams will complete the underground practical portion of the competition. On Friday, teams will complete the first-aid and equipment maintenance portions.
Feds to Probe Substance Abuse Among Miners
October 5, 2005
PIKEVILLE, Ky. -- Responding to complaints from mine operators, federal regulators said Wednesday they would study the extent to which miners are showing up for work high on alcohol and drugs.
Public hearings were scheduled in seven states "to get a better handle on the scope of the problem" and develop strategies to deal with it, said David G. Dye, acting director of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"Alcohol and drug abuse by miners threatens the safety of their colleagues, and that cannot be tolerated," Dye said.
The issue surfaced in eastern Kentucky two years ago when state and federal inspectors, investigating the death of a coal miner in an explosion, found a bag of marijuana inside a mine near Prestonsburg.
The inspectors also took a statement from a co-worker who said he saw two miners snorting crushed pain killers.
A task force in Kentucky is already looking at several recommendations, including requiring drug screenings for all miners involved in injury accidents and keeping a registry of names of miners who fail drug tests.
"It's important that we monitor these miners with problems," said Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
But Mike Dalpiaz, vice president of the United Mine Workers of America district office in Price, Utah, said he doesn't believe the federal agency will find widespread evidence of substance abuse among miners nationally.
"Nobody wants drugs or alcohol in the workplace, period," he said. "But I've been in the industry for 30 years. I don't see it as a problem."
In a notice published in the Federal Register this week, mangers at the Mine Safety agency said they will be gathering information to determine if additional regulations are needed. They want to determine what kinds of safeguards mining companies already have in place and what the costs of any proposed federal action would be to the industry.
The agency will be gathering information for all types of mining, not just coal.
Public meetings have been scheduled in Salt Lake City on Oct. 24; St. Louis on Oct. 26; Birmingham, Ala., on Oct. 28; Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 31; Charleston, W.Va., on Nov. 2; Pittsburgh on Nov. 4; and Arlington, Va., on Nov. 8.
Two more mine accidents in China bring week's death toll nears 70
October 6, 2005
BEIJING (AFP) - Two more mine accidents left at least 20 dead and 22 missing in China, continuing a black week for the industry, which has been rattled by four deadly disasters.
At least 10 miners were killed and 18 more were missing after a coal mine in southwest China flooded late Tuesday.
The tragedy, which happened at the Longtan Coal Mine in Sichuan province, coincided with 10 people being killed by an unknown gas at an illegal pit in northeast Liaoning province, Xinhua news agency reported.
So far this week, four mine disasters have claimed the lives of at least 68 workers and left 22 others missing.
Survivors are rarely found from the regular gas explosions that rock mines in China, but the chances of finding people alive in floods have proven to be marginally better.
Nine escaped from the molybdenum mine in the Gangtun township of Liaoning and were arrested, Xinhua said. Molybdenum is a silvery white metal used in making alloys and electrodes.
While much of China was shut down for the National Day holiday week, the unrelenting demand for coal to drive the country's booming economy and rapid industrialization forces many mines to remain open, around the clock.
It is the voracious demand that results in so many accidents, with safety procedures ignored in the quest for profits.
On Monday, 34 miners were killed and 19 injured in a gas explosion at a pit in the central province of Henan.
The mine was operated by a large state-run enterprise -- the Henan Hebi Coal company -- but even it ignored safety procedures, government officials admitted.
In a statement Wednesday, the National Bureau of Production Safety Supervision and Administration said problems existed in gas ventilation management and workplace management at the mine as well as production safety.
According to the bureau, the Henan mine was operating with outdated equipment.
It ordered the company, which had assets worth 4.6 billion yuan (567 million dollars) in 2004 and runs eight major mines with annual production at over seven million tons, to close all its pits to check safety equipment.
The demands follow an order from Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday for mine bosses to do more to prevent accidents.
His comments came after a gas blast in the northwest Xinjiang region at the privately-run Yateur mine, in which 14 workers died, according to Xinhua.
China relies on coal for two-thirds of its energy needs and is not expected to shift significantly to other fuel sources for years to come.
In an attempt to improve safety, China in August ordered 7,000 coal mines to suspend operations by the end of the year.
But critics argue that shutdowns only exacerbate coal shortages and force mines elsewhere to increase capacity at the expense of safety.
New explosion-barrier project under investigation
October 6, 2005
As the only testing facility in Africa devoted to mine-related dust-explosion simulation, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) Kloppersbos facility 40 km north of Pretoria, is currently working on a project that investigates the effectiveness of a triggered roadway explosion barrier.
According to CSIR explosion research and fire-management specialist Karel van Dyk, the project aims at combining the active and passive barrier process into a high-technology electronic alternative.
“Although both the passive and active barrier processes are extremely successful in containing underground explosions, physical constraints, such as limited space, encouraged investigation of the new project,” he explains.
“An electronic mechanism, which is able to detect an explosion as it occurs, is able to trigger the release of a cloud of suppressant powder that assists in quenching the explosion,” he adds.
The project, an initiative between the CSIR and industry, began in April this year and is scheduled for completion by April 2006.
“There are a limited number of mine-explosion testing facilities around the world that are comparable to Kloppersbos,” he says, adding that Lake Lynn, in Pennsylvania, US, Tremonia, in Germany and the Barbara experimental mine, in Poland, are the other well-known facilities.
In addition, the CSIR has a 20-litre explosion test sphere at Kloppersbos for the characterisation of explosible dusts. The facility is used to perform small-scale tests and determine dust-explosion parameters for any explosible dust. “One can determine merely whether a dust is able to participate in a dust explosion or what the explosion pressures and rates of pressure rise expected from a explosion involving a particular powder or dust would be,” explains Van Dyk, adding that the CSIR has used this facility over the years to test various industrial dusts such as sugar, pharmaceuticals, wood fines, sulphur, wax starch, manganese and aluminium.
Although the CSIR is constantly involved in projects designed to assist in containing underground explosions, Van Dyk reports that it is also involved in a project investigating the use of fire-suppression systems on conveyor-belt systems.
Mining houses, especially the coal-mines, have shown a great interest in performing research related to the fire hazards presented by conveyor belts, especially since the death of nine people at Northam platinum-mine, located in Limpopo province, in September last year.
According to Van Dyk, mining houses strive to create safe underground working environments and are thus interested in pre-empting all aspects that can cause fires and explosions.
He also reports that interest from the mining community on the African continent has been minor and depends largely on the exploration being carried out at any given time.
The organisation also focuses, to a large extent, on explosion-awareness training programmes, which it offers to the mining community.
“As a significant number of mineworkers are illiterate, most of the content is visual and aims to enhance their understanding of the working practices related to explosion prevention and protection,” Van Dyk explains, adding that Seaphi Nthombeni is the course coordinator.
The courses are designed to handle high-level programmes as well as refresher courses.
The number of mineworkers attending the explosion-awareness programme has increased significantly from 2001, when the average included about 500 people a year.
Since then, there has been a steady increase, with the average now being 1,500 people a year. The average number of courses presented have also increased from one a month to three.
Simulation software takes training to a whole new level
October 6, 2005
A Pretoria-based simulator developer has re- cently added two new products to its range, introduced a new motion base and further enhanced the realism of the virtual model. Fifth Dimension Technologies (5DT) supplies training simulation technology to the mining industry and recently released packages to train drivers of ’dozers and draglines. These simulations are designed primarily to train new operators of these types of equipment but can also be used to retrain existing operators in more efficient driving habits, for screening new employees, for research in establishing best practices and as an induction tool. The simulation consists of a 180º virtual reality projection of a fully-customised replica mine, a motion base and a control panel, which is a copy of the one found in the original vehicle which is being taught. In addition, there is an instructor’s terminal from which the instructor can monitor the learner’s progress and alter the conditions under which the simulation operates. The motion base, upon which the controls are situated, imitates the movements that the driver would experience when operating the real version of the machine. The mining simulations previously offered allowed for training in haul trucks, longwall mining, continuous mining and roofbolters. The latter is only offered by 5DT. The two new simulators make use of the advanced ground design which software developer for 5DT Steve Marshall describes as having the most realistic ground interaction in the world. “The new ground design allows for extremely accurate simulations of the interaction between the simulated vehicles and their environment. It accurately depicts driving conditions, digging scenarios and is sensitive enough that tyre tracks are left on the ground when the vehicle passes,” says Marshall. The accurate representation of the ground was a necessary development in the package offered by 5DT for surface mining.
“The ground interaction has really upped the reality aspect for surface mining. In order to accurately develop the ’dozer and dragline sims it was an essential aspect and needed to be accurate as it now gives the drivers the correct feel,” explains Marshall.
The new simulation conversions, like the older ones, are capable of working a trainee operator through a series of training scenarios which vary in difficulty from initial simple sessions to potentially life-threatening scenarios. The program is fully customisable for each client and can accurately represent the customer’s mine as well as the procedures at that mine. Software developer at 5DT Pieter Wiggett tells Mining Weekly that the mine simulations are so accurate that, in one instance, a haul-truck operator at a major mine, who had never before been on the simulator, took control of the simulated truck and drove it exactly where it was supposed to go, in exactly the correct order without being told where to go.
“The sims are so detailed that when an operator zooms in on any given building he will be able to see such small objects as fire hoses and air- conditioner grates. They are exact replicas down to the road signs,” enthuses Wiggett.
Additionally, he explains that there are a number of computer-controlled entities which add to the realism as well.
“The computer can accurately represent environmental conditions, such as weather and dust levels, as well as traffic and time of day,” says Wiggett. The simulator can record and replay the different training sessions so that trainees may be shown where and when they went wrong.
Performance graphs for basic engine statistics, as well as operator errors, can be generated for the time each trainee spends on the sim- ulator. In addition, instructors can receive detailed feedback which includes a list of the entities and vehicles in the mine, real-time operator errors, machine errors and mistakes in standard operating procedure. The simulations have also been improved through the recent introduction of the six degrees of freedom motion base. The previous motion base was only capable of three degrees of movement. The new motion base is capable of deliver- ing surge and sway, back and forth and side to side as well as degrees of pitch, roll and heave. These new movements are essential for the correct representation of draglines and ’dozers as drivers have to be able to swivel these machines in order to get an accurate feel for driving them.
Marshall explains that there are a number of advantages to using a training simulation over the conventional methods of training.
“Due to the fact that the training is so focused, there are shorter training times, people can be trained 24 hours a day for seven days a week, special emergency situations can be trained for and bad habits, which might normally go un- noticed, can be picked up,” says Marshall.
The simulations are developed in line with the recommended operator manual procedures and so the advised responses to any emergency in the simulation are the ones which are advised in the manual.
“The entire simulation is created with a very close eye on the operator manuals,” explains Wiggett.
5DT is a South African company with offices in Pretoria and California, in the US. It is a high-technology company that focuses on virtual-reality applications for the aerospace, mining, medical and entertainment industries, as well as a number of other fields. Currently, the company is in the process of developing a drillrig simulator, a mine maintenance simulator and a mine visualiser, which is a mine-management tool aimed at training individuals in the global mine operating environment. As well as developing the simulation programs, the company also builds data gloves and head-mounted displays.
12 Angry Owners
Thursday, October 06, 2005
BY FORD TURNER The Patriot-News
Coal miners killed by cave-ins and explosions and those who suffered from black lung have their names enshrined on a memorial next to David A. Lucas' house.
Other miners who no longer work underground have their names on affidavits, saying the federal government forced them out of business.
Lucas doesn't want his name in either place.
He and a group of independent miners are fighting what they describe as a campaign of harassment by inspectors working for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The clash has spawned a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, inspired a filmmaker to chronicle the miners' plight and led the miners to fight citations in court -- with or without lawyers.
"I don't think the feds are going to win, because we are hard-core," said Lucas, referring to those who run the family-operated coal mines still open in Pennsylvania's historic anthracite region. "I'm going to fight them until the day I die."
Once, hundreds of independent mines operated between Harrisburg and Scranton. The number has dwindled in recent years to about a dozen.
At least three former anthracite miners, Kenneth Richter, Michael Miller and Frank Neumeister, have signed affidavits that they closed their mines because of overzealous MSHA safety enforcement.
Cindy Rothermel, co-owner of a family-run mine near Pottsville, said that in a 20-year period that ended in December, the mine was never closed. Since then, it has been ordered closed seven times by MSHA inspectors.
"It's just nickel-and-diming everybody to death," she said.
Rothermel said she sees a pattern in which MSHA will "pick on two or three mines until they have those mines out of business, and then they will move on to the next two or three."
The miners' claims of government harassment have triggered an investigation by the inspector general's office of the U.S. Labor Department, which oversees MSHA.
"We had a request, and we sent in a team," said Cathy Gromek, a spokeswoman for the inspector general's office. "We are looking at MSHA practices."
Gromek declined to provide specifics.
But miners said questions asked by investigators have focused on inspectors working for the MSHA District 1 office in Wilkes-Barre, headed by John Kuzar and William Sparvieri.
Kuzar was not available, and Sparvieri declined comment. Suzanne Bohnert, a spokeswoman at MSHA's national headquarters in Virginia, said the agency was "cooperating with the inspector general's ongoing investigation."
Miners said the number of MSHA citations issued to them skyrocketed after Kuzar arrived in the District 1 office about five years ago.
A Maryland lawyer hired by some of the miners, Adele Abrams, has referred to Kuzar in interviews as "Captain Ahab."
"You get the sense that Kuzar's ... last act will be to put the padlock on the last anthracite mine in America. And that would be a shame," Abrams said.
Lucas said he cannot afford a lawyer. A grandfather of four, he dropped out of high school to be a miner 40 years ago.
He is 54, has failing joints and high blood pressure, and said he only made about $4,000 last year because MSHA repeatedly forced him to close his mine.
Last month, he traveled to Harrisburg to face off with MSHA in a federal courtroom.
"I am ashamed of myself. Years ago, I would have punched them in the mouth and served my sentence," he said.
The Lucas proceeding centered on MSHA citations. Lucas was represented by Earl Kieffer, a 75-year-old former miner and leader of an association of independent miners.
"I was representing David ... because I know the mining business upside down and sideways," Kieffer said.
The government was represented by Brian Mohin, a Philadelphia-based Labor Department lawyer. Mohin, contacted by telephone, said he could not discuss the case.
Kieffer said several MSHA claims against Lucas -- including one that he failed to perform a pre-shift inspection of his mine -- were dropped. Fines against Lucas were reduced from $5,600 to $840.
Lucas thought of it as a victory.
"If you aren't a liar, you don't have to worry when you are on the stand testifying," he said. "They gave me bogus fines and shut me down for the stupidest reasons."
The day after the court appearance, Lucas received a notice from MSHA that outlined a new set of fines totaling $9,800.
A Philadelphia filmmaker, Marc Brodzik, said he is creating a documentary about the demise of family-run anthracite mines under government's heavy hand.
"These guys are getting harassed. It is big business and big government, shafting these guys under the guise of safety enforcement.
"It is sad that it is these 12 families left, and they are struggling to put food on the table," Brodzik said.
The shrine in Lucas' yard includes the name of Joseph "Pappy" Lucas, who was David Lucas' grandfather. His late father, Ray A. "Checky" Lucas, also was a miner.
Lucas' brother, Darryl Lucas, is a partner at the mine. It is frustrating to have a federal inspector stop by and issue a citation for a mine that has passed inspections, again and again, for years, he said.
"What we know is what we learned off our dads, and they learned off their dads before them," Darryl Lucas said. "How can this guy show up and tell us it's all wrong?"
Oxygen tank mishap killed diver
October 6, 2005
A former head teacher died after wrongly believing he had run out of oxygen while diving in a flooded quarry, an inquest has heard.
But the direct cause of death remained a mystery after a pathologist said it could not be ascertained.
Christopher Lindup, 58, from Bristol, got into difficulties during a night dive at Vobster Quay Diving Centre, Somerset, in September 2004.
Coroner Tony Williams recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.
The inquest was told Mr Lindup believed he had run out of oxygen and aborted the dive but seconds after returning to the lake surface he disappeared under the water.
Mr Lindup previously worked as a head teacher at both Lawrence Weston School and Merrywood School in Bristol - he retired in 2000.
Diving colleagues said he was an "experienced and competent" diver who had completed more than 60 dives.
The inquest in Wells, Somerset, heard Mr Lindup and regular diving companions Clive Finn and Gary Ward visited the quarry on the evening of 30 September for a routine night dive.
Mr Finn, a diver with more than 10 years' experience, and Mr Lindup intended to complete a 45 minute dive, looking at old wrecks and buildings submerged when the quarry had been flooded.
Halfway through the dive Mr Lindup signalled he had run out of oxygen.
Mr Finn attached his own oxygen supply to Mr Lindup and they swam to the surface.
Mr Ward, who had not been diving with them because of a cold, threw a rescue buoy to them.
Mr Finn said he let go of Mr Lindup who was still conscious and talking, so he could grab the buoy.
He said: "I swam out a few feet to get the buoy and as I turned back to Chris he just wasn't there, there was no screaming or splashing.
"What's really upsetting is that we were only 10ft from the shore."
After two attempts Mr Finn managed to bring him to the surface. Attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was taken to Bath Royal United Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Consultant pathologist Dr Hugh White, who carried out a post mortem examination on Mr Lindup, found that he died "following a period of immersion underwater".
He said there were "no classical signs of drowning" and ruled that the cause of death could not be ascertained.
Govt pledges to uproot corruption in coal production
BEIJING, Oct. 7 (Xinhuanet) -- The government will devote more efforts to root up the local officials in leading positions who have misbehaved in handling coal mine work safety issues, said a senior official during an interview with Xinhua days earlier.
"China is determined to bring all them to justice," said Li Zhilun, minister of the Ministry of Supervision.
The country has sadly witnessed coal mine tragedies that come one after another, killing dozens of miners, with the latest one on Monday in central China's Henan Province claiming more than 30 lives.
China will take the strictest measures to punish local officials who would dare to cheat investigators by hiding the truth or set barriers to that effect, he said, noting that some of them are quite likely to have got kickbacks from mine owners.
Corruption has proved to be one of the key things that have led to mine blasts in the past. Hundreds of officials had been unveiled as problematic worms in probes carried out by both central and local authorities.
"Corruption by local officials have appeared in every single procedure that relates to the approval, licensing, production and sale practices of coal mines," he said.
Corruptions by those officials have undoubtedly aggravated the risks that the Chinese miners would face when working underground.
The punishment of corruption is the key to the final solving ofproblems existing with coalmine work safety, said Li Yizhong, headof the China work safety administration, citing the adoption of severe punishing rules as the only path to that end.
"We will work to get rid of 'the coal stained with blood' or 'gross domestic product with blood stains'," he said.
Li said in a recent article that the base condition in China's coalmines would not only hurt the life and property of the people, but also render impact on the healthy development of the coal industry and the country's overall economy and social stability.
China's work safety authority has determined to close 8,648 or 40 percent of the country's mines, a bid which Li Yizhong said would eradiate almost half of China's traps that have been swallowing human lives.
Earlier this month, the State Council, or the Chinese cabinet, promulgated another set of rules that are specially designed for the operation of coalmines.
The rules make clear what responsibility the coalmine owners, local governments and related authorities should bear in coalmine related issues.
"Linkage between coalmine owners and local official has significantly cut the effect of the implementation of laws," said Li Zhilun.
Local officials, especially those in leading positions, he said,will be held liable accordingly together with those directly responsible for mine accidents and the staff in charge of production affairs.
"China's supervision will devote every effort to ensuring all accident probes carried out objectively, fairly and in accordance with laws," he said.
Rescue squads compete at experimental mine
October 7, 2005
Rolla Daily News
Last night, two construction workers entered the University of Missouri-Rolla’s experimental mine to install wood timbers and stabilize roof conditions.
At approximately 3 a.m., workers lost power and when the mine foreman went to remedy the situation, he found that maintenance crews had disconnected power to perform maintenance on the exhaust fan.
Upon re-entering the mine, he encountered high methane - an explosive gas - readings and water levels that were roof high.
The foreman attempted to make contact with the construction workers, but to no avail.
This was the scenario played out Thursday as mine rescue teams from as far away as New Mexico came to UMR’s Experimental Mine for the annual Mine Rescue Contest.
The life-like situation presented real life problems to the teams, which included the nation’s only collegiate mine rescue team in UMR.
“This contest was real challenging,” said Gary Lewis, captain of the Carmeuse Lime Company’s team from Maysville, Ky. “We really like this mine and it is good to work in an underground mine instead of on a baseball field or in an auditorium.”
According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bob Friend, the Rolla contest is the only one held underground.
“This contest is unique in that it is conducted in an underground environment, which would be more closely aligned in what would be expected in a real-life situation,” Friend said. “Being underground makes perfect use of miners’ lamps and the equipment which they would use in an underground rescue or recovery activity.”
As simple as the scenario may sound, it was actually very difficult, involving impassable water and flammable gases, which could, if not dealt with properly, cause the mine to explode.
In a nutshell, the teams’ objective was to pump out the water, clear the methane and pump fresh air to the trapped workers. Upon reaching the workers, the rescue team was required to extract the injured worker after surveying his injuries.
When teams reached the back of the mine, they found one dead worker and one possibly live worker - depending on whether or not they followed proper procedures in reaching the victim.
The teams also put themselves at-risk, including death, by incorrectly following procedures.
The competition changes from year-to-year and teams never know what to expect.
“This year was exhausting,” said Steve Setzer, captain of Doe Run’s Maroon Rescue Team. “There was a lot of traveling back-and-forth.
“It was also very frustrating not being able to get the ignition source off that could have ignited the methane,” he continued. “The competition was very challenging in several aspects. We had several mental things we had to get over and a lot of barriers and air locks to protect ourselves and the survivors.”
Setzer felt that his team held up well under the pressure, calling the competition “a good test of our abilities.”
UMR Gold’s co-captain Joe Cohn noted some of the problems his team faced.
“The ventilation problem was different than before,” he said. “We tried to practice as many ventilation problems as we could. This time they had water to the roof and we didn’t know what kind of gases were on the other side - that really threw us off.
“I feel we could have done better. We definitely need more of these types of problems in our practices, but overall I think we’ll come out with a decent score. I think our written tests will keep us up there.”
Not only is this competition about skill, but safety.
“Safety is at the forefront of the local mining companies,” Friend said. “I was in town to present Doe Run with the Sentinels of Safety Award - the most prestigious award presented by MSHA - on Wednesday. It is the 23rd time it has won the award.
“With UMR putting a team together, it speaks volumes. They are obviously teaching their mining engineering students safety with the mine rescue teams, and that bodes well for the future of people who will one day be running the mines.”
The competition began on Wednesday with a written test and was followed with the underground practical portion on Thursday.
Teams will undergo a first aid and benching competition today at the Havener Center. The benching competition requires the team to identify and fix a problem with the breathing apparatus or gas detectors.
Further safety steps needed in mines, administrator says
October 7, 2005
PIKEVILLE - The coal industry has eliminated many of the dangers faced by miners, but more improvements are needed, the acting director of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a speech prepared for a group of coal operators Thursday.
"We can all take a moment to congratulate ourselves here today, but only a moment," David G. Dye said in the speech released to the Associated Press. "One mining fatality, one mining injury, one occupational illness is one too many, and you know we still have work to do."
So far this year, 15 coal miners have been killed on the job in the United States. Kentucky, with six fatalities, leads the nation. Alabama has had three fatalities, Pennsylvania and West Virginia two each, and Ohio and Oklahoma one each.
Last year, 28 people died in coal mine accidents nationwide.
"MSHA and the industry have worked long and hard together to take care of many of the obvious physical hazards, the ones that could be fixed with better engineering, better equipment, and better technology," Dye said in the remarks. "We're now down to the hardest thing of all to fix, the human aspect of safety."
Dye was the scheduled speaker at the annual meeting of Coal Operators and Associates, an industry group based in Pikeville. The meeting was closed to the public.
Dye said "the vast majority" of mining accidents are caused by human error. He said miners have to be persuaded not to take risks.
"In order to get to the next level - to make it down that final slope toward zero - we must address the difficult questions of what motivates and drives people's decisions and choices about safety and health in the workplace," Dye said.
Managers, regulators linked
Dan Kane, secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America, said often the human errors that lead to miners being injured or killed are on the part of mine managers and even regulators who don't perform their jobs as they should. Coal operators need to give miners the tools needed to work safely and regulators need to adopt and enforce regulations to keep miners safe, he said.
"People who take the easy way out by blaming the injured miner are extremely unfair and extremely inaccurate," Kane said.
Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said technology has made coal mining safer. For example, he said miners can operate underground machinery by remote control, taking them out of harm's way. And on equipment like roof bolters, shields have been added to stop or divert falling rocks away from the miners operating them, he said.
Caution is key
The key, Caylor said, is for miners always to be cautious. "It's just like speeding. If people really know what it would mean to have a wreck, maybe you could convince them not to commit an unsafe act. Changing the behavior patterns of miners is crucial."
In his prepared remarks, Dye said one of the industry's top concerns is retreat mining.
"Some recent tragic accidents have brought home to all of us that we must all work together to address this issue and work on ways to make the mines safer for your miners," he said.
In Kentucky alone, four miners have been crushed in rock falls in the past 15 months during retreat mining, which involves removing coal pillars that support the roof. The latest accident occurred in August, when two miners were killed by a roof fall in a Harlan County mine.
Dye said 18 fatalities have occurred during retreat mining in the past eight years.
China coal mine Heilongjiang plans 2006 IPO
HONG KONG, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Heilongjiang Longmei Mining (Group), China's third-largest coal mine, plans to raise more than HK$2 billion ($258 million) in a Hong Kong public offering in the first half of next year, Standard newspaper said on Saturday.
Quoting unnamed sources, the paper said Heilongjiang Longmei had picked CITIC Capital as the IPO sponsor and it planned to bring in strategic investors before the deal.
No officials from Heilongjiang Longmei or CITIC Capital were immediately available for comment.
Any offering would follow an IPO by China Shenhua Energy , the country's largest coal producer, which raised US$2.95 billion in June.
The newspaper said Heilongjiang Longmei was formed in December through a merger of four state-owned coal producers as the northeastern province tried to emerge as one of the country's top coal producing bases.
It produced 27 million tonnes of coal during the first half of this year, the paper said, and plans to raise annual output to 100 million tonnes.
Beijing is trying to restructure the industry, saddled with hundreds of small mines.
While China is one of the world's top coal exporters and relies on coal for over two-thirds of its energy consumption, its mining industry is the world's most dangerous, with a death toll of about 2,700 in the first half of 2005 alone. ($1=HK$7.75)
Toll from mine flooding in Sichuan hits 16
October 10, 2005
The death toll following the flooding of a coal mine in southwest China's Sichuan Province on Oct. 4 had risen to 16 by noon Monday, according the Sichuan Provincial Work Safety Office.
Rescue workers said 12 miners were still missing.
The accident took place around 9 p.m. last Tuesday at an uphilldriving face beneath the Longtan Coal Mine, which is situated at Xiaojing Township in Guang'an City.
A total of 32 miners were operating underground and only four escaped.
The coal mine, which is administered by Guang'an Energy Group Co. Ltd. of Sichuan Provincial Coal Industry Corporation, was built in June 2003 with a projected annual production capacity of 550,000 tons.
Field investigation showed that the flood water came from an underground limestone cave and a reservoir nearby, according to rescue experts.
China to Close Down Ill-operated Coal Mines
October 10, 2005
China will close down a number of ill-operated coal mines at the end of this month, said a work safety official here Monday.
The country's work safety authority will release the list of the first batch of coal mines to be closed down, said Wang Xianzheng, deputy director of the National Bureau of Production Safety Supervision and Administration.
Before this bid, the bureau had ordered 8,648 coal mines which failed to renew their work safety certificates to stop operation for safety checks due to the frequent blasts and accidents took place in coal mines throughout the country.
Describing the closing of the mines as the most difficult part in the prevention process of coal mine accidents, Wang expected to confront resistance as the closing will certainly hurt the interests of the coal mine owners, as well as those who have benefits in that.
According to Wang, most provincial level authorities have submitted their specific steps for coal mine safety check to the bureau, "But many of them only give vague plans only with deadlines set as late December."
The bureau had already required them to report more detailed plans, said Wang.
“All the coal mines that fail to pass the check will be closed down this year," he said.
However, the closing acts should be carried out exactly according to laws and may employ law enforcement, he said.
Coal Producers' U.S. Growth Hurt by Lack of Available Miners
Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Massey Energy Co. and Arch Coal Inc. can't find enough workers for their mines in Appalachia, the second-biggest U.S. coal-producing region, as they struggle to keep up with rising demand.
The number of coal miners dropped to 99,358 last year from 159,777 in 1990, and more than half are older than 55. Fewer than 100 mine engineers graduated from U.S. schools last year, a fifth of what's needed to replace retirees, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Mining is the second-most deadly industry, based on U.S. Labor Department data.
"Baby boomers were the last generation to enter the coal mining workforce,'' said Ray McKinney, administrator of the federal mine safety agency in Arlington, Virginia. "We're really concerned about the shortages.''
President George W. Bush is promoting coal to help meet the country's electricity needs over the next decade. Demand for coal is surging as natural-gas prices climb, making it more attractive to run coal-fired power plants. At today's prices, the gas to generate one megawatt-hour of electricity would cost about $133, compared with $27 for coal.
Benchmark gas futures touched a record $14.80 per million British thermal units last month, and the average price this year is more than triple what it was in the 1990s, when most new power plants were gas fired. The price of coal has doubled in about three years, to $58.50 a ton, based on prices at a terminal on the Big Sandy River in West Virginia, the benchmark for Appalachian coal.
Massey, Arch Coal and other mining companies are recruiting using billboards and ads in college magazines. Massey hired an airplane to pull a banner over Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, earlier this year, advertising job openings to high school and college students gathered there for spring break.
"We're trying to find the labor to increase production,'' Don Blankenship, Massey chairman and chief executive, said at an investor meeting Sept. 26 in New York. "Underground work is different, and sometimes young workers get discouraged.''
Massey, the fourth-largest U.S. coal producer, in July said the labor shortage was its biggest impediment to growth. The company is offering free cars and vacations to managers who retain workers. The company also built a medical center in Madison, West Virginia, near many of its mines, as a convenience for workers and a way to control health-care costs.
Shares of Massey are up 35 percent this year, the smallest gain among the four biggest U.S. coal producers. Massey's coal output was 40.4 million tons last year, down 7.5 percent since 2001, when production peaked. The company lost money from 2001 to 2003 and swung to a profit of $13.9 million last year.
Shares of Peabody Energy Corp., the biggest U.S. coal miner, are up 85 percent this year. Peabody produced 227 million tons of coal last year, up 17 percent from 2001, and had profit of $175.4 million.
Finding and keeping workers ``is something we're paying a lot of attention to,'' Steven Leer, Arch Coal's chief executive, said in a Sept. 14 interview. Shares of Arch Coal, the second-biggest U.S. coal company, have climbed 82 percent this year. The company had profit of $113.7 million last year, up from $16.7 million the year before, as production rose.
Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy Inc., the third-biggest U.S. coal producer, has funded training programs at two-year technical colleges and a new training center at West Virginia University.
Competing with GE
The need for more workers is acute in the Appalachian region and will get worse in other U.S. coal-producing regions over the next 10 years, according to McKinney.
Wyoming's Powder River Basin produces 40 percent of U.S. coal, and the next-biggest regions are Appalachia and Illinois. Richmond, Virginia-based Massey Energy is the biggest coal company in Appalachia and is the biggest employer in the region.
Coal mining is both lucrative and dangerous. Miners' salaries average $50,734 a year, 37 percent higher than the average for all U.S. industries, according to Labor Department data. Mining has the second-highest rate of fatalities, according to the agency. Only the category that includes agriculture, forestry and fishing is more deadly.
According to the mine safety agency's Web site, ``nearly every coal miner knows first hand the destructive impact of black lung disease.''
"We have to compete with General Electric as much as Arch and Massey,'' said Tom Hoffman, a spokesman for Consol Energy. "We can't go to a recruiting fair looking like a dinky old coal mining company.''
U.S. coal demand will grow 3.1 percent this year, outpacing a 1.9 percent increase in supplies, according to the Energy Department. The U.S. has enough coal for 250 years.
Coal demand is expected to double in the next 20 years as utilities build more coal-fired power plants. Coal generates more than half of U.S. electricity today.
"Mining is tough, dirty work in sparsely populated areas,'' said J. Davitt McAteer, a mining professor at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia who was an assistant secretary of labor and head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration.
Massey, which loses 60 percent of new hires in their first year, is offering a $25,000 retention bonus to those who stay three years. The company also pays $500 bonuses twice a year.
"Massey's getting desperate and casting a wider net,'' said Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America union in Fairfax, Virginia.
Even regulators are feeling the pinch of too few coal industry workers.
"We had two guys we wanted to hire from a mining company, but the company got wind of it and offered them each a $10,000 retention bonus,'' McKinney said.
MSHA Kicks Off Winter Alert Campaign
WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) today, through its "Winter Alert" campaign, warned U.S. underground coal mine operators and miners of workplace hazards that can arise when the weather turns colder. MSHA records indicate that, historically, most explosions in underground coal mines occur during winter months.
"The changes in weather can increase the risk of fatal accidents," said David G. Dye, acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Each miner and mine operator must take individual responsibility to eliminate the kinds of hazards that can cause fatal accidents in the workplace. Safety is not the other guy's job-safety begins with you."
In fact, MSHA's slogan for this year's campaign is "Winter Alert Starts Now And Safety Begins With YOU." The annual campaign reminds miners and mine operators of the risks of colder weather and educates them about helping to reduce risks and hazards.
"Safety requires the joint effort of both management and labor," Dye continued. "Everyone at the mine site must see safety as an individual value and act to ensure a safe working environment."
During winter, low barometric pressure and humidity, coupled with the seasonal drying of many areas in coal mines, have contributed to conditions conducive to coal-mine explosions. Drier air allows for the suspension of coal dust in the atmosphere, increasing the chance of an explosion. Low pressure allows methane to move more easily into active areas, where it can possibly ignite. Additionally, limited visibility during inclement weather, icy mine access roads and haul roads, slippery walkways, and the freezing and thawing process on highwalls contribute to hazardous conditions that should be addressed during winter months.
Mine operators are encouraged to conduct frequent mine examinations, provide adequate ventilation of underground areas, apply liberal amounts of rockdust, and frequently check for methane gas buildup at their work site.
Agency personnel are visiting mine sites and speaking to miners and mine operators about the winter alert hazards. Today and throughout the winter, MSHA mine inspectors will hand out stickers, posters and decals that warn miners and operators of the unique dangers brought on by colder weather.
More information on mine safety and health can be viewed on the Internet at http://www.msha.gov.
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