A Note on Washington’s Failure to Modernize Mining Safety Standards
The Charleston Gazette runs a story today providing further suggestion that a failed 2008 mining safety bill might have helped prevent last week’s deadly mining explosion in southern West Virginia. Here’s the thing: Despite the evolution of coal mining and the embrace of powerful modern machinery, the country’s rules for controlling combustible coal dust are still based on research conducted in the 1920s, the Gazette reports.
The 2008 proposal — which passed the House but was abandoned in the Senate — would have moved toward modernizing those standards by requiring federal officials to study the effectiveness of current methods used by mining companies to make coal dust incombustible.
Though the cause of last week’s blast has yet to be determined, experts suspect that it was related to methane buildup, ignited by an unknown spark. The presence of coal dust, in such cases, can exacerbate an explosion — an occurrence also suspected in the West Virginia episode. The site of the blast — the Upper Big Branch Mine — had been cited dozens of times this year for violations related to ventilation and the accumulation of coal dust.
It’s not like the issue hasn’t been on the radar, the Gazette writes:
Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published reports in 2006 and 2009 urging regulatory agencies to re-examine the standards, but no such action has been taken.
Look for this to be another in the long list of after-the-fact reforms considered by Congress and the White House in the wake of the West Virginia tragedy.