Print Page

Report highlights WETC

Sun Advocate publisher

Antique coal mining equipment on display in East Carbon. Because of the county's deep roots in mining the ages-old equiptment adorns parks and islands within many Carbon County communities.

Training center is at heart of mine commission's recommendations

The Western Energy Training Center was mentioned numerous times in the Utah Mine Commissions Report that went to Governor Jon Huntsman last week, and in the recommendations made by the commission it would play a central role in bringing Utah into a new age of mine training and safety.

The report, which was released on Jan. 23, pointed out that among coal mining states Utah and Colorado are at the bottom of the wrung when it comes to state safety regulation, control and training, when compared to other coal mining states in the country. It said that West Virginia was the best when it came to state regulations.

Utahns tradtitionally like less control in all things government, but the report pointed out that in the coal mining industry, without some state regulation and intervention, safety is not as much of a priority as it should be.

The commission was put together by the governor in response to the Crandall Canyon disaster that took place last August in which six Emery and Carbon County miners lost their lives and then a few days later, three rescuers were killed in an attempt to get to the trapped men. The local area was represented on the commission by State Senator Mike Dmitrich, Joe Piccolo, the mayor of Price and Hillary Gordon, the mayor of Huntington.

"The people on this commission were the most diverse group of people I ever worked with in terms of their view of the subjects we needed to cover," said Piccolo on Monday morning. " The level of scrutiny was very high and the support we got from various agencies and groups was terrific."

The gist of the report was a 45 point recommendation section which pointed out things that need to be done in five different areas of mine safety and training. Those five areas included state oversight, technical and research areas, education and training, testing and certification, emergency response and family support and mine accident investigation. Some of the recommendations included the following.

•The state should establish an office of coal mine safety (OCMS) within the Utah Labor Commission with a mandate to maximize coal mine safety, coal mine accident prevention, and effective accident response. The state had been involved in mine inspections and regulations until the 1970 and 1980's when the federal governments agencies, OSHA and then MSHA took over a lot of those duties. The state legislature then disbanded most of the state oversight of mines because of the federal agencies involvement.

•The state OCMS should include a coal mine safety ombudsman alert system. Under this system an individual (coal miners, their families, other support workers, etc.) would have a system of contact with the state agencies to report mine safety concerns without fear of retribution from the employer. The system would be set up with all the legal protections to guarantee privacy and anonymity.

•The state should establish a Research Institute for Mine Safety and Productivity (RIMSP). The new organization would concentrate on developing improved methods for mining deep cover minerals and other challenges unique to the rocky mountain area.

•The state should provide increased and stable funding for mining engineering education. Evidence shows that there is a serious lack of mining engineers and it appears the shortage may get worse. With only 12 accredited mining engineering programs in the United States the need for engineers is being outstripped by nearly three fold with each graduating class. This would apply to hiring more faculty and providing more resources for the school of mining at the University of Utah.

•The state should encourage a public education campaign focused on Utah public schools and higher education to provide information about careers in energy, minerals and natural resources. The workforce in the mining industry is waning, particularly in the area of skilled and educated individuals. The program would help to get students interested in careers in the energy industry for the future.

•WETC should be the focal point for delivery of a comprehensive, state supported training curriculum to foster miner safety and accident prevention in Utah's coal mines and to facilitate emergency rescue and response to coal mine accidents. The program would be designed to deal with the unique mining circumstances in Utah.

•The state should support WETC's training efforts to prepare coal mining personnel to conduct safe operations and to enable the industry to recruit and retain qualified coal mine workers. The shortage of coal mining personnel is already recognized as getting extreme and will only intensify in time. With many of the present miners reaching retirement age, 50,000 new mining personnel will be needed within the next decade. WETC should receive support from the state to begin training and updating training for new and experienced miners. The new coal miner training program at WETC would exceed the requirements of MSHA. The report also says that WETC should develop a continuing coal safety education program, a mining mentor program, and a coal management safety training program to ensure that current miners and management have the most advanced training available.

•The state should seek federal administrative and/or legislative flexibility for WETC and the Utah Labor Commission to design training and certification programs that are tailored to the safety needs of Utah miners, without restraints from MSHA programs.

•The state should encourage the University of Utah department of mining and WETC to collaborate on engineering preparatory programs for both traditional and non-traditional students and on opportunities for teaching partnerships involving their respective faculties. In addition the two should develop an associate degree program in mining technology and present it to the board of regents for their approval.

•The commission also asked that the legislature give serious consideration to WETC's training equipment proposals as well as asking the board of WETC to assess safety programs that WETC should develop with a performance measurement system.

•The legislature should direct the labor commission or another agency to conduct a thorough review of coal mining certification programs in other states and consider expanding the number of mining occupations that it certifies for work in Utah mining operations. In addition the mining commission also said that WETC and the labor commission should develop an effective working relationship to ensure the miner safety training and miner certification are appropriately coordinated. They should also set up a program to address language barriers that exist in the mining industry in terms of training and work.

•The state does not currently require certification of new coal miners. Utah should require this.

•The state should establish a mine safety emergency response center at WETC to facilitate emergency response training and to house specialized equipment for rescues.

•The state should work with MSHA and the coal operators to develop a clear set of protocols for timely and accurate communications with the families of miners who may be in accidents as well as with the press and public within the context of a mining accident.

•The state should join with other coal states in urging congress to consider a mine accident investigation system that operates independently of MSHA. Such an outside agency would be able to provide an impartial view of a situation and that would be an assurance to families and the public.

The commissions report is presently being studied by the governors office and the recommendations are under consideration. "I think the implementation of this report will show how serious the governor and the legislature is about this situation," noted Piccolo. "If implemented correctly the end product of this report will last for generations, and I hope it will also leak out into other areas of industry."

Print Page