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MSHA News Release No. 2000-0623a
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Rodney Brown/Kathy Snyder

Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Friday, June 23, 2000

Mining Community Notified of Problems With Emergency Breathing Device

  The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is notifying all users of the Draeger OXY-K-Plus self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR) that a number of units have been found with chemical contamination in the breathing circuit that could render the devices unusable in an emergency. MSHA is requiring all underground mines relying on the Draeger units to identify the defective units and immediately remove them from service.

  "We have found problems with several units of this model that made them effectively useless and dangerous to use, and we are taking action to protect the miners," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We have consulted with the manufacturer and have determined how to identify the defective units. This information is being shared with all mining operations using the Draeger units so that the devices may be immediately replaced with properly working self-contained self-rescuers."

  Based on examinations and discussions with Draeger, it has been determined that defective units may be identified by shaking the device and listening for any noise coming from inside of the unit. Draeger units in serviceable condition will not make any noise when the unit is shaken. In addition, users should follow the "check list" of usage requirements listed in the unit's manual and remove any unit failing to meet these requirements. Draeger units with missing parts, including the belt plate and clamping strap, must be replaced.

  Draeger is issuing a user notice to all users of the device which advises them to immediately examine and replace any units that do not meet the three requirements stated above.

  Significant contamination by potassium superoxide was found in the breathing circuit of five Draeger units obtained during an audit of the units conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Later, additional units obtained from different mines showed the potassium superoxide contamination. The tested devices were manufactured from 1993 to 1997.

  The Draeger self-rescuer units are designed to contain potassium superoxide, but significant amounts of the chemical should never be in the breathing circuit. If a miner tried to use a contaminated unit, it could cause coughing and chemical burns to the mouth and throat.

  MSHA personnel, as well as representatives from Draeger, will immediately begin on-site inspections of the Draeger units to assist mine operators in identifying those devices that must be removed from service. The on-site inspections are expected to be completed in two weeks. Mine operators or contractors that choose to purchase other approved SCSRs as replacements for the Draeger units must obtain a purchase order for an adequate number of replacement devices to be delivered on or before July 8.

  About 2,400 Draeger OXY-K-Plus units are devices are in use in the U.S. coal industry. MSHA has notified the operators of the approximately 45 U.S. coal mines of the problem by telephone.

   All underground coal mine operators are required to provide SCSR's to each underground miner for use in an emergency. The devices are intended to provide one hour of breathable air to protect underground miners against the toxic gases that contaminate the air during a mine fire or explosion.

   All SCSR devices are required to be approved by NIOSH and MSHA for use in the mining industry.