Coal mine safety-now there’s a fashionable oxymoron. Various tragedies, especially in the recent past, have led to a whole new rash of concerns among miners, family members, and safety experts. Just what do they do down there anyway? Is it really safe to be fooling around in the bowels of Mother Earth? Some say, “It’s a death wish.” One question that comes to mind is that in the heyday of technological booms, why are so many miners at-risk today?
The most recent tragedy occurred in Utah where six miners remained trapped for over a week. These miners were caught in the collapse at the Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington. Other fatal incidents preceded the one in Utah. In Princeton, Indiana, three men fell to their death when they lost balance in the bucket of a crane some 500 feet in the air. George Zugel, director of safety and health for Frontier-Kemper Construction, Inc., claims that the bucket was “somehow” upset during its routine descent. Just last year, this company was cited with over 350 safety-code violations, 127 of these violations were considered “serious or significant,” said Rodney Brown, a spokesperson for the agency. You can safely rely on this: the mine company will not take responsibility. It’s like a disease with these guys.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, hazardous warnings came to light five months prior to the August, 2007 Utah miner collapse incident. Mine safety experts are currently reviewing whether or not the approval by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration of Retreat Mining at Crandall was justified. Last week, CNN.com made connections between the miners’ and their personal concerns of safety in the work site. The miners, however, feared retribution by management and chose to keep their mouths’ closed regarding voicing these concerns.
Safety regulations have been a concern since mining began. One highlight found in most coal mining safety manuals is that it has a lower rate of injury and illness per 100 employees than in agriculture, construction, or retail trade. In addition, since 1970, miners have tripled productivity while work-related injuries and/or deaths have declined 45%.
So what goes on down there in the trenches of the Earth? In an underground mine, tunneling walls are covered with chopped up white rock, helping to settle coal dust. Mechanical water sprayers (continuous and long-wall mining) also help to divert the amount of dust concentration that can be harmful to the lungs, ears, and eyes.
A ventilation system helps keep the air in motion. Huge fans set up at the surface-layer of the tunnels pulls in a continuous supply of fresh air. This system removes most lingering coal dust that gathers in the tunnels as well as preventing build-up of explosive methane gas. Miners carry hand-held methane monitors, too.
As a tunnel progresses deep into the earth, roof bolts act as support system to the upper wall structures. The roof bolts are a steel canopy to protect workers. Miners are required to wear hard hats, steel-toed boots, hearing protection, along with air-purifying systems that improve visibility.