Mine rescue emerges at forefront of MSHA agenda

By |  November 16, 2015
MSHA's Joe Main

MSHA’s Joe Main

Mine rescue enhancement was among the items at the top of Joe Main’s to-do list when he took office six years ago as the assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

The Upper Big Branch mine disaster put off a number of initiatives Main planned to implement early in his tenure as MSHA chief. But mine rescue is now getting the attention it deserves from both the metal/nonmetal and coal industries, according to Main.

“We’ve pulled in the stakeholders and mining companies,” says Main, in an exclusive interview with Pit & Quarry. “These have been highly successful ventures because we are now better prepared than at anytime in history. Whenever an emergency strikes, we’re more ready to respond and find miners and get them out of harm’s way. We’ve updated all of our command centers, and we’re training [mining companies] about how our systems work.”

A rescue demonstration held at a Central Plains Cement Co. mine in Sugar Creek, Mo., is an example of the progress made in this area, Main says. MSHA’s fleet of mine emergency response equipment, which features state-of-the-art communications technology, was on full display. A mine rescue vehicle that’s designed to travel safely underground during a mine emergency was also part of the exercise.

Representatives from nine mining companies, including Martin Marietta Materials Inc., Vulcan Materials Co., and Fred Weber Inc., participated in this particular demonstration. Company representatives had the opportunity to see MSHA’s equipment in person, Main says, and learn firsthand how it expedites the mine rescue process while making rescue efforts safer.

Aggregate producer interest and participation in mine rescue exercises has increased in recent years, he adds.

“I have seen a greater involvement from the non-coal sector – the metal/nonmetal industry – than I have seen in a lifetime,” Main says. “We have the National [Metal and Nonmetal Mine Rescue] Contest, and we have a rivalry between Kentucky and Nevada about who’s going to hold the national contest. We have as many teams showing up for the metal/nonmetal contest as we do coal.”

Engagement between MSHA and aggregate producers is up because communication between the two parties has been reestablished over the last several years, Main says.

“There wasn’t a confirmed [MSHA] assistant secretary for five years before I arrived, he says. “So when I arrived here we were in the middle of growing pains. Folks weren’t talking to each other.

“One of the first things I did was to sit down with the metal/nonmetal folks to address this, because we needed the industry and MSHA talking to each other again,” he adds. “We needed to have better consistency in what we were doing. We needed to restart the conversation between those folks at the mine and the field level and MSHA.”

The line of communication between MSHA and the mining industry is as open now as it has been during his tenure, Main says.

“We are on the road a lot,” Main says. “We’re getting ready to have our sixth meeting with whom I call ‘middle America’ stakeholders. I was just down in Alabama for the Southeast [Mine Safety and Health] Conference. We probably had eight state aggregate associations and mining organizations there. It was basically sitting down and talking to each other about how to deliver the Mine Act better and focus on moving the ball forward.”

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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