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DOL News Release No. 01-394
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: (703) 235-1452

Released Friday, October 26, 2001

News Release

MSHA Issues Annual Winter Alert Safety Message
Increased Hazards In Underground Coal Mining During The Winter Months

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As winter approaches, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is once again warning coal miners and mine operators about the additional hazards that colder weather creates. MSHA's annual Winter Alert campaign emphasizes increased vigilance underground from October through March, when the nation's most devastating mine disasters historically have occurred.

"Precautions are necessary to prevent mine explosions in all seasons, but if possible, we need to be even more vigilant in winter," said Dave D. Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

In the wake of last month's explosion that killed 13 men at the Jim Walter Resources No. 5 mine in Brookwood, Ala., Lauriski announced a "Stand Down for Safety" effort to raise hazard awareness at all mines across the country. The Winter Alert program, directed specifically at underground coal mines, has existed for more than 20 years. During Winter Alert mine inspectors visit underground coal mines, talk with miners and supervisors, distribute educational materials on explosion prevention, and ask mine management, labor organizations, and state mine safety agencies to help reinforce the message.

Severe drops in barometric pressure may occur during colder weather, inducing methane to migrate into the mine atmosphere, which increases the risk of an explosion. Cold, dry winter air results in drier conditions underground, which makes coal dust more likely to get suspended in the mine atmosphere. This also can contribute to an explosion.

Over the past 20 years, U.S. coal mine explosions have claimed more than 100 lives; more than half of these accidents occurred during Winter Alert months.