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MSHA News Release No. 97-1002
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Tuesday, October 14, 1997

MSHA Reminds Coal Miners of Cold-Weather Dangers

As winter approaches, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is once again warning coal operators and miners that colder weather creates more hazards in the mines. MSHA's Winter Alert campaign, which runs annually from October through March, emphasizes increased vigilance underground during the winter months.

All coal mines contain methane, and when the barometric pressure drops during colder weather, methane can migrate more easily into the mine atmosphere, increasing the risk of an explosion. Furthermore, dry winter air results in drier conditions underground, and this makes coal dust more likely to get suspended in the mine atmosphere, which also can contribute to an explosion.

"Thanks to the cooperative efforts of coal mine operators, miners and others concerned with mine safety, we have made strides to reduce the risk of explosions, but each year the risks are very real," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. "Mining continues to be dangerous and we must be as vigilant today as we have been in the past if we are to deal successfully with these risks."

Historically, some of the nation's worst mining disasters occurred between October and March and, since 1900, more than 250 fatal coal mine explosions have caused the loss of nearly 6,600 lives. In December 1907, an explosion in Monongah, W.Va., killed 362 miners, making it the worst mining accident in U.S. history.

This year's Winter Alert slogan -- Only YOU can prevent mine explosions! -- appears on safety signs distributed to all underground coal mines. MSHA also is disseminating Winter Alert calendars that list the dates, locations and numbers of fatalities of past coal mine explosions. When posted in mine offices, bath houses, underground sections and other areas where miners work, these signs and calendars will serve as a constant reminder of the increased dangers that exist this time of year.

MSHA also is reminding underground coal miners and operators of the following:

-- Consistently follow the mine-approved ventilation plan.

-- Conduct thorough pre-shift, on-shift and weekly checks for methane and other hazards.

-- Keep potential ignition sources out of working areas; give special attention to maintenance of bleeder systems in worked-out areas, to ensure that methane from these areas cannot accumulate and become a hazard.

-- Complete rockdusting in all areas of the mine.

-- Never smoke or carry smoking materials into an underground mine.

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