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MSHA News Release No. 2000-0511
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Katharine Snyder
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Thursday, May 11, 2000


A pair of miners used oxygen-supplying self-rescue devices to save two of their co-workers who were in danger of suffocation at the Ohio Valley Coal Company's Powhatan No.6 mine near St. Clairsville, Ohio, earlier this week.

"These miners deserve the highest praise for their quick thinking and courage," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We hope that everyone in underground coal mining will pay attention to the message that properly maintained self-rescue devices and proper training save lives."

About 11 a.m. last Monday, a foreman and three other miners were working to rehabilitate a deteriorated area of Powhatan No. 6 mine when the foreman, who had walked ahead of the others, entered an area with very low oxygen and collapsed.

As the foreman's gas detector sounded an alarm, roof bolter Jim Shapley and continuous miner operator Ted Holland went to his assistance. When Holland, in the lead, tried reach the foreman, Holland's detector alarm sounded and he also collapsed.

Kevin Roe, also a roof bolter, joined Shapley and they pulled Holland quickly to safety but could not easily move the foreman and began feeling effects of low oxygen.

They retreated to don self-contained self-rescuers that supply oxygen, then returned to pull out the foreman. They then held one of the oxygen-supplying devices to the foreman's nose and mouth to help him breathe. Holland meanwhile had recovered and telephoned for help.

The foreman was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then by air to a Pittsburgh medical facility. He was expected to recover after a brief hospitalization.

Federal law requires all underground coal mine operators to provide self-contained self-rescuers (SCSR's) to each underground miner for use in an emergency. The respirators are designed primarily to provide one hour of oxygen against toxic or unbreathable atmospheres in case of a mine fire or explosion. The devices may be worn on the belt or stored in an easily accessible place under a plan approved by MSHA. Each underground coal miner is required to receive hands-on training in the use of SCSR's.

"Thanks to these miners, no lives were lost," McAteer said. "If they had made the wrong decision -- tried to continue their rescue efforts without the oxygen devices -- there could have been four deaths. We hope others will learn from what happened in this incident."

MSHA is continuing its investigation into the emergency. McAteer said, "Incidents like this can so easily end in tragedy that we need to do all we can to prevent similar emergencies in the future."