Union Sues Feds Over Coal Mine Air Packsadmin
The coal miners’ union is suing the government to ensure miners have working oxygen supplies and know how to use them.
The suit by the United Mine Workers of America comes a day after Congress passed sweeping legislation overhauling mine safety rules. The union backed the legislation but said its lawsuit deals with separate concerns.
UMW president Cecil Roberts said the union wants the Mine Safety and Health Administration to conduct random checks of oxygen devices used underground. He said that’s necessary because of reports the devices are faulty.
Mine agency spokesman Dirk Fillpot said Thursday preliminary tests show the oxygen devices used at an eastern Kentucky mine where five people died last month functioned properly.
The agency previously said the same thing about air packs used at West Virginia’s Sago mine, where 12 miners died in January. But the mine agency also said the air packs at Sago had not been used to their full capacity before being discarded by the trapped miners. That has raised questions about how well they performed.
The sole survivor of the accident at West Virginia’s Sago mine said at least four of his crew’s air packs failed, forcing the miners to share the devices.
The union’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, also seeks to force the mine agency to do more to train miners to use the air packs. Roberts said training is typically done in a classroom but ought to be moved to a mine-like setting.
“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,” Roberts said.
Currently, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health randomly tests about 100 oxygen devices in use at coal mines roughly every two years, according to Les Boord, who directs those efforts for the agency.
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