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UMWA files suit to force MSHA to check oxygen devices, provide “real-life” training

June 8, 2006

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) filed suit today in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking an injunction to require the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to immediately conduct random checks of oxygen-generation devices in use at every coal mine in the United States.

The suit also calls for immediate implementation of training in emergency-simulated situations for miners who may be required to use these devices - called self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs) - in the event of a real mine emergency.

“There have been too many reports of faulty SCSRs in the mine tragedies we’ve experienced this year to ignore,” UMWA International President Cecil E.Roberts said. “In fact, miners have experienced problems with these units for years. We’ve called in the past for MSHA to inspect these units, to little result. So, we’ve been forced to take this extra step to get these units tested.

“We frankly wish we didn’t have to go to court to get MSHA to do this,” Roberts said. “MSHA is supposed to be the federal watchdog for mine safety, and after all the reports of failed SCSRs in emergency situations, you would think MSHA would do this on its own. Indeed, I have asked the agency, in writing, to do so.

“MSHA’s response has been to call for more study, more ‘recommendations’ for coal companies to perhaps consider when it comes to SCSRs,” Roberts said. “We are way past the ‘study’ and ‘recommendation’ stages now. Coal miners are dying. We must find out why this is happening, and find out now. And then we must make the companies implement needed changes - right now.”

“One of two things will happen as a result of this testing,” Roberts said. “Either the units will prove to be operational and up to the standards federal regulations require, which will give miners confidence that they can count on them to save their lives in an emergency; or there will be problems identified that can then be corrected.

“Either way, this testing must be done, and done immediately,” Roberts said. “America’s coal miners must know, without the shadow of a doubt, that the SCSRs they strap to their belts before every shift are working as they are supposed to and will give them a fighting chance to get out of an emergency situation.”

Roberts said that incorporating training techniques for using SCSRs in situations that are more like how the units would be actually used are essential for coal miners. Currently, training at most mines is done in a classroom setting and consists of simply showing miners how to break theunits open, how to insert the mouthpiece and nose pieces and how to activate the unit. There is little or no training that approximates actual underground conditions, much less emergency situations.

“The kind of training the UMWA is calling for in this suit will give miners confidence that they know what to expect if they have to activate their SCSRs in a real emergency,” Roberts said. “They must have a better understanding of what it is like to put these units on in the dark, in the smoke, in the anxious moments that follow after an explosion or fire underground.”

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