Skip to content
MSHA News Release No. 95-040
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

October 24, 1995


The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is calling for assistance from the mining community to help remind miners and mine operators of the increased hazards present in underground coal mining during the winter months. Records show that the most deadly coal mine explosions have usually occurred during winter months.

"Colder weather brings significant drops in barometric pressure and a drying effect that creates additional hazards for miners who work in underground coal mines and increases the chances of serious accidents," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "However it's important that miners and operators get the message that, with proper attention to these hazards, tragic accidents most certainly are preventable."

As part of the 1995-1996 winter alert effort, McAteer is contacting all underground coal mine operators nationwide by direct mail to call their attention to these winter hazards.

During the winter months large drops in barometric pressure can allow potentially explosive methane to migrate from inactive parts of an underground coal mine into travelways and work areas.

This increases the risk that an explosive mixture of air and methane may come into contact with an ignition source causing an explosion. Cold weather also allows cool, dry air entering underground coal mines to become warm drawing moisture from the workings. As coal dust dries out, it becomes harder to control, and may contribute to explosion hazards.

During the winter alert period, MSHA is calling on the mining community to help inform miners and mine operators of the hazards presented by the colder weather and the precautions necessary to avoid tragic accidents. MSHA will distribute winter alert messages to coal operators as well as coal mining organizations and individuals with an interest in the coal industry. The agency will seek permission to post winter alert messages at retail outlets in mining communities around the country.

MSHA will develop and distribute radio, television, and printed public service announcements that urge miners and mine operators to make frequent tests for methane and to maintain proper ventilation in the underground workings, paying special attention to areas where miners seldom travel or work. They will be reminded to ensure all mine examinations are made as required.

MSHA winter alert messages also seek to remind coal operators to pay special attention to coal dust control. They will be urged to use adequate rock dusting procedures, a method of applying inert materials to mine surfaces to help prevent coal dust from propagating an explosion in the underground atmosphere.

During winter months mine hoists, elevators, haulage and transportation equipment need more frequent examinations to guard against a buildup of ice.

Miners and mine operators are also advised to review training procedures on emergency escape routes, to properly maintain escapeways, and review the correct use of self-rescue devices.

Surface coal mine operators are urged to prepare for winter hazards such as the icing of roads and equipment and the freezing and thawing of highwalls which can lead to serious accidents.

The winter alert period runs from October through March.

A graphic which illustrates the factors that can lead to a coal mine gas explosion during winter months is available from the source listed at the top of this News Release.


(Selected data for recent decades)

Year      Mine/Date of Accident            State    Deaths


1968      Consol No. 9 (11/20)               WV      78
1970      Pyro No. 2 (11/30)                 KY       1
1980      Ferrell No. 17 (11/7)              WV       5
1991      Watson Bridge Mine (11/12)         KY       1
1993      AA & W Coal Elmo No. 5 (11/30)     KY       1


1970      Finley No. 15 & 16 (12/30)         KY      38
1970      South Dip Skidmore Slope (1/29)    PA      -- (2 hurt) 

1972      Itmann No. 3 (12/14)               WV       5
1981      Adkins No. 11 (12/7)               KY       8
          Grundy No. 21 (12/8)               TN      13
1985      MSW Coal Co. No. 2 Slope (12/11)   PA       3
1987      Double R Coal No. 1 (12/26)        VA       1
1992      Southmountain No. 3 (12/7)         VA       8
          Amonate No. 31 (12/29)             WV      -- (5 hurt) 


1982      RFH No. 1 (1/20)                   KY       7
1987      Dutch Creek No. 2 (1/8)            CO       1
1991      Fire Creek No. 1 (1/16)            WV       2
1993      Maple Meadow Mine (1/15)           WV      --
                                            (extensive damage)


1970      Wonamie No. 18 (2/27)              PA      -- (3 hurt)
1976      Wolf Creek No. 4 (2/10)            KY      -- (1 hurt)
          "   "   "  "     (2/17)            "       -- (1 hurt)
1980      North River No. 1 (2/8)            AL      -- (2 hurt) 
1984      Greenwich Collieries No. 1 (2/16)  PA       3 (4 hurt)
1991      Golden Eagle Mine (2/17)           CO      -- (11 hurt)


1970      Forge Slope Mine (3/5)             PA      -- (4 hurt)
1976      Scotia Mine (3/199-11)               KY      26
1992      Blacksville No. 1 (3/19)           WV       4
1993      Buck Mountain Coal Co. (3/5)       PA      -- (3 hurt)