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MSHA News Release No. 97-1229
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Wayne Veneman
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Monday, December 29, 1997


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has expanded its audits of self-contained self-rescuers (SCSR's), designed to protect underground coal miners in case of a fire or explosion, after discovering several improperly maintained units at one mine in southern West Virginia. The devices are designed to provide miners with an hour's oxygen supply in an emergency.

"Mine operators and miners should be aware that self-contained self-rescuers may provide diminished protection if they are outdated, mishandled, or improperly maintained," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Starting January 5, MSHA will conduct special emphasis inspections focusing on Ocenco, Inc., SCSR's. Inspectors will visually check each of these units for signs of damage, improper maintenance, or expiration of approval."

Federal law requires that mine operators supply SCSR's for use by all underground coal miners. The devices must be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and MSHA, and must be properly maintained, regularly inspected by mine personnel, and replaced on the expiration of their service life.

Several Ocenco breathing devices from a mine in West Virginia failed tests under a random audit program conducted by NIOSH. Tests of additional devices from this mine revealed improper maintenance, which was evident on dismantling the units. The mine has replaced the units.

Additional Ocenco SCSR's, obtained from other sources, generally passed NIOSH tests; however, tests indicated some devices that either had signs of mishandling or had passed their service life would provide diminished protection.

"Federal regulations require mine operators periodically to inspect their SCSR's," said McAteer. "In addition, we strongly encourage mine operators to do an in-depth review of their supply of SCSR's. These devices are critical in case of a fire or explosion. Each device needs to be examined closely for signs of damage or improper maintenance, as well as checked to make sure it is still within its service life.

"In addition, mine operators need to be cautious in purchasing SCSR's second-hand without certain knowledge they have been properly maintained. Improper maintenance may not always be visible to the potential buyer."

Each SCSR should have an approval plate, a manufacturer's label including a serial number, and --if refurbished --a manufacturer's label stating the date serviced. Mine personnel are urged to contact MSHA if any SCSR's are found:

Outdated SCSR's must be replaced as soon as possible. In a mine emergency, however, these devices still provide substantial protection to miners. In the next few weeks, MSHA will launch inspections and work closely with mine operators to ensure that outdated units are being replaced promptly.

"Proper maintenance of SCSR's is absolutely critical to protect underground coal miners at all times, and our concern is even more heightened because winter is the time when coal mine explosions have most often occurred," McAteer said. Under the NIOSH audit program, about 100 SCSR's are tested each year from a random selection of underground coal mines.

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