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Gov. Blagojevich signs new safeguards for Illinois miners and rescuers  Send a link to a friend

Senate Bill 929 requires miners have additional access to self-contained self-rescuers, requires installation of emergency communication devices, requires construction of underground mine rescue chambers

[JULY 27, 2006]  SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed a law Sunday providing additional safety precautions for Illinois' nearly 4,000 miners and rescuers. The governor proposed the legislation in January following the tragic West Virginia mine accident that killed 12 miners. With nearly 32 million tons of coal produced in Illinois each year, including 20.4 million tons in southern Illinois, coal is a vital contributor to the Illinois economy. Senate Bill 929 helps ensure that the men and women who are helping to revitalize Illinois' coal industry are protected.

"As the Illinois coal industry continues to grow, it is our responsibility to ensure that the men and women who put their lives on the line to harness this important energy source are as safe as possible," Blagojevich said. "This law will make Illinois mines even safer and better prepared to respond in the event of an accident."

Sponsored by state Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, and state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, Senate Bill 929 requires the installation of emergency communication devices in all Illinois mines, requires escape routes to be clearly marked, requires stricter certification standards for supervisors and independent contractors, and requires miners to carry self-contained self-rescuers and have additional units nearby.

"The unfortunate disasters in coal mines last year served as a wake-up call to update the safety standards in our mines," Reitz said. "With these changes, it is my hope that if there is an accident at one of our mines, we will be prepared to respond, and our miners will have the tools they need to survive."

"With this new law, Illinois will double its efforts to protect those who make their living going underground to mine coal," said Forby. "Updating mine rescue stations, like the ones in Benton and Harrisburg, using transponders to locate trapped miners, and ensuring there are extra supplies of oxygen available in case of an emergency will give our miners a better chance at surviving an accident. This new law and the safeguards that it brings will go a long way in making sure that our coal miners leave their job safe and secure at the end of the day."

"It is imperative that we do everything in our power to ensure the safety of Illinois miners," said Sen. Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlinville. "This legislation provides common-sense actions such as requiring lifelines in our mines to make sure that miners can find their way to the surface even if their vision is impaired from an accident. We should do all that we can to ensure that all of Illinois' miners return home to their families each night."

Senate Bill 929 includes provisions that:

  • Require Illinois miners to wear self-contained self-rescuers: SCSRs are designed to supply an individual with one hour of oxygen for use in an emergency situation and are currently required by federal regulation to be available to miners. While SCSRs can provide some protection, more than an hour of travel is required to reach the surface of many of Illinois' mines. Therefore, every miner will be required to wear an SCSR while underground, and companies will be required to place caches of SCSRs throughout the mine for use during a longer escape.

  • Require installation of an emergency communication and tracking system in every mine in Illinois: The new legislation requires the installation of a wireless communication device capable of receiving emergency communications from the surface at any location throughout a mine. Mine operators will be required to install in or around the mine any and all equipment necessary to transmit emergency communications. In addition, a tracking system providing real-time monitoring of the physical location of each person underground will be required. Operators must install the wireless tracking equipment necessary for such monitoring and provide every miner with a tracking device to be worn while underground.

  • Establish a Mine Technology Task Force: In order to ensure that the best available mine safety technologies are in use underground, the legislation calls for the formation of a task force consisting of representatives of the United Mine Workers of America, coal operators, academia and the communications industry. The task force will review the existing technologies and submit its findings to the State Mining Board. The mine safety technologies must be provided in each underground mine once this equipment is approved by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and is commercially available.

  • Increase standards for Illinois mine rescue stations: Illinois currently operates mine rescue stations in Springfield, Benton, Harrisburg and Sparta. However, only two of those stations are certified by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Additionally, the state has agreements with all the underground mines to provide personnel to staff the stations, but there are no stipulations on how many people each company must provide. The new legislation mandates reasonable participation in mine rescue teams by coal companies and requires certification of all mine rescue stations.

  • Require mines to be equipped with lifelines and "tag-lines": State law already requires that each mine have two different ways of exiting a mine in the event of an emergency, each marked with reflectors. However, these reflectors can be impossible to locate in the event of a fire. To ensure that all miners can escape quickly, this provision requires lifelines along the escape routes. The lifelines will be required to have cones indicating the direction to the surface. This will allow miners to hold the lifeline and find their way to the surface, avoiding any disorientation due to impaired visibility. The legislation also requires tag-lines, which miners will be required to use in the event of an emergency. The tag-lines connect a group of miners together, preventing individual miners from becoming lost.

  • Require return entryways to be clearly marked to aid in egress: In addition to the two escape routes mandated by state law, every mine has a third passageway that is used as a return. The new legislation requires that the return entry be marked with reflectors or other signage to give a clear indication of an alternative path to the surface in the event the mandated escape routes are blocked.

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  • Require adequate transportation to be available for workers: While mine operators must maintain a vehicle suitable to transport sick or injured workers, transportation is not mandated in any other circumstance. Therefore, an entire unit or group of miners could be left without mechanical transportation for a distance of many miles underground. In most instances, this distance would far exceed a miner's ability to walk out of a mine while using an SCSR. In order to remedy this situation, the legislation mandates that mechanical transportation be available on each working section of a mine and that this transportation be of adequate size to transport all miners working in said section to the surface.

  • Require stricter certification standards for independent contractor supervisors: Illinois mining operations routinely use contractors for specialized projects or to assist the regular work force. Unlike the mining work force, contractors are not certified by the state and may not have received adequate training. This legislation requires mine operators to have at least one certified independent contractor supervisor to oversee independent contractors or their employees.

  • Require stricter certification standards for general surface supervisors: The new legislation amends the Coal Mining Act to require that individuals who supervise underground mine surface facilities, coal preparation plants and independent contractors engaged in the construction, demolition or dismantling of facilities obtain competency certification from the state's Office of Mines and Minerals.

  • Create guidelines for methane extraction: In order to ensure the safety of miners, the legislation prohibits methane extraction from sealed areas of active mines, as well as from abandoned mines that are attached to active work sites, unless specific safety measures are in place.

  • Require construction of rescue chambers in underground mines: The new legislation requires the construction of a rescue chamber in underground mines in order to protect miners against potential hazards in case of an emergency. The chamber is to be equipped with first-aid materials, an oxygen-generating device and proper accommodations for people underground awaiting rescue.

  • Provide for use of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Telecommunications Center for emergency response: In order to ensure a quick and efficient means of disseminating duties and responsibilities to those involved in mining emergency response, the legislation permits the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to use the telecommunications center maintained by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

"This legislation is the result of collaborative efforts between the state and the coal industry and will help Illinois remain a leader in mine safety," said Joe Angleton, director of the Office of Mines and Minerals, Department of Natural Resources. "As the coal industry re-emerges in the state, we're determined to offer the highest possible level of protection to our men and women who go underground each day."

Illinois coal miner safety is the No. 1 priority of the state's Office of Mines and Minerals. State law requires a mine be inspected once a month; however, state mine inspectors often visit mining operations more often to ensure compliance. Routine inspections of coal mines include checking for proper ventilation and hazardous conditions underground and on the surface of a mine, ensuring roof and rib control procedures are being followed, and making sure miners are working safely and properly.

In April, Blagojevich announced the completion of the third consecutive year that Illinois coal mines have gone without a fatality, a milestone never before achieved in Illinois. While the past 36 months are proof that the state's aggressive mine safety measures are helping to keep miners safe, Senate Bill 929 will further improve mine safety.

The legislation is effective immediately.

Illinois' coal industry is growing for the first time in over a decade. Three new mines are expected to come on line in Illinois in 2006 -- further evidence that the coal industry is making a comeback in Illinois. The industry began to decline in the 1990s, after tougher federal sulfur emission standards were put in place. Since then, advances in clean-coal technology have made it possible to burn Illinois coal and still meet the strictest air-quality standards in the nation.

Since coming into office, Blagojevich has demonstrated his commitment to revitalizing Illinois' coal industry:

  • The governor signed a comprehensive mine safety bill that will help keep Illinois miners safe in case of a mine emergency.

  • Blagojevich also has led an effort with the Illinois congressional delegation to tout Illinois' advantages as a site for the U.S. Department of Energy's proposed project to make electric power and hydrogen fuel from coal with near-zero harmful emissions. The FutureGen project site is expected to be chosen within the next year.

  • In July 2003, Blagojevich signed a law that added $300 million in revenue bonds to the Coal Revival Program, which provides major tax and financing incentives to large clean-coal-fueled projects.

  • Since 2003, the state has invested $64.7 million in coal development projects, including the Peabody Energy Electric Prairie State project in Washington County and the Taylorville Energy Center, a coal gasification project in Christian County. Also, $45 million has been provided as grants to Illinois coal operators who upgrade their facilities to make their product more competitive, as well as more than $11 million for advanced research through the Illinois Clean Coal Institute.

[News release from the governor's office]


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