[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 153 (Thursday, August 8, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 48593-48597]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-19029]



Mine Safety and Health Administration

30 CFR Parts 7 and 75

RIN 1219-AB79

Refuge Alternatives for Underground Coal Mines

AGENCY: Mine Safety and Health Administration, Labor.

ACTION: Request for information.


SUMMARY: The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is requesting 
data, comments, and information on issues and options relevant to 
miners' escape and refuge that may present more effective solutions 
than the existing rule during underground coal mine emergencies. The 
Agency continues to reiterate that in the event of an underground coal 
mine emergency, a miner should seek escape as the first line of 
defense. Responses to this Request for Information (RFI) will assist 
MSHA in determining if changes to existing practices and regulations 
would improve the overall strategy for survivability, escape, and 
training to protect miners in an emergency. MSHA will review the 
comments to determine what actions, if any, the Agency will take in 
response to comments.

DATES: Comments must be received by midnight Eastern Daylight Saving 
Time on October 7, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Comments and informational material may be sent to MSHA by 
any of the following methods. Clearly identify all submissions in the 
subject line of the message with RIN 1219-AB79.
     Federal E-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the on-line instructions for submitting comments.
     Facsimile: 202-693-9441.
     Mail or Hand Delivery: MSHA, Office of Standards, 
Regulations, and Variances, 1100 Wilson Boulevard, Room 2350, 
Arlington, Virginia 22209-3939. For hand delivery, sign in at the 
receptionist's desk on the 21st floor.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: George F. Triebsch, Director, Office 
of Standards, Regulations, and Variances, MSHA, at 
triebsch.george@dol.gov (email); 202-693-9440 (voice); or 202-693-9441 
(facsimile). These are not toll-free numbers.


Concurrent Limited Reopening of the Record

    Elsewhere in this issue of the Federal Register, MSHA is publishing 
a notice of the Agency's limited reopening of the record on a training 
provision in the Refuge Alternatives rule published December 31, 2008 
(73 FR 80656). In response to a challenge to the final rule, the U.S. 
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directed MSHA to 
explain the basis for requiring some training annually rather than 
quarterly, or to reopen the record and allow additional public comment 
on the issue.

Availability of Information

    MSHA will post all comments and information on the Internet without 
change, including any personal information provided. Access comments 
and information electronically at http://www.regulations.gov or on 
MSHA's Web site at http://www.msha.gov/currentcomments.asp. Review 
comments in person at the MSHA Office of Standards, Regulations, and 
Variances, 1100 Wilson Boulevard, Room 2350, Arlington, Virginia. Sign 
in at the receptionist's desk on the 21st floor.

[[Page 48594]]

    To subscribe to receive email notification when MSHA publishes 
rulemaking documents in the Federal Register, go to http://www.msha.gov/subscriptions/subscribe.aspx.

I. Statutory and Regulatory History

    The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER 
Act) amended the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act). 
Section 2 of the MINER Act added a requirement that each underground 
coal mine operator develop and adopt an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) 
to improve accident preparedness and response at each mine and 
periodically update the ERP to reflect changes in the mine, advances in 
technology, or other relevant considerations. An ERP must provide for 
the evacuation of all persons endangered by an emergency and the 
maintenance of persons trapped underground when escape is impossible.
    Section 13 of the MINER Act directed the National Institute for 
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct research and tests 
concerning the use of refuge chambers in underground coal mines, and to 
report the results to Congress and the Secretary of Labor (Secretary). 
The MINER Act directed the Secretary to respond to the NIOSH Report by 
reporting to Congress the actions, if any, the Secretary intended to 
take based on the NIOSH Report, including proposing regulatory changes 
and the reasons for such actions.
    NIOSH finalized its Research Report on Refuge Alternatives for 
Underground Coal Mines (NIOSH Report) in December 2007. The report drew 
from NIOSH experience, independent research and testing, and a survey 
of existing research related to mine refuge chambers.
    In December 2007, Congress directed the Secretary to propose 
regulations, consistent with the recommendations of the NIOSH Report, 
requiring rescue chambers, or facilities that afford at least the same 
measure of protection, in underground coal mines not later than June 
15, 2008, and to finalize the regulation not later than December 31, 
2008 (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, SEC. 112(b)).
    MSHA published a notice of proposed rulemaking on June 16, 2008 (73 
FR 34140) and the final rule on December 31, 2008 (73 FR 80656). The 
final rule established requirements for refuge alternatives in 
underground coal mines.

II. Key Issues on Which MSHA Requests Comment

    MSHA is seeking information on an overall strategy for 
survivability and escape in the event of an underground coal mine 
emergency, with escape as the primary option. Specifically, MSHA is 
requesting information on escape and refuge options that may present 
more effective solutions than the existing rules for miners' escape and 
safety. MSHA is also seeking information on effective options to the 
specific requirements in the existing rule. Comments should address 
escape strategies, refuge alternatives, training, and certification.
    Since the refuge alternatives rule became effective on March 2, 
2009, refuge alternatives have been placed in underground coal mines 
across the country. During this time, mine operators, miners, 
manufacturers, MSHA, state governments, NIOSH, and other parties have 
gained experience and perspective on how all aspects of a mine's 
emergency preparedness program must work together to provide effective 
escape and alternatives for refuge for miners. To benefit from this 
experience and perspective, MSHA has compiled a series of questions and 
requests to obtain additional information on the following topics: 
Training, In-place Shelters, Escape Methodology, Replacement of Brass 
Fittings, Part 7 Testing and Approval, Apparent Temperature, 
Physiological and Psychological Factors, and Additional Requests for 
    Continued development of refuge equipment and technology is crucial 
to enhance the effectiveness of refuge alternatives and improve miners' 
chances of surviving a mine emergency. Responses to this RFI will 
assist MSHA in determining an appropriate course of action with respect 
to escape and refuge capabilities in underground coal mines.
    In responding to this request for information, please consider the 
requirements of the Mine Act, as amended by the MINER Act; knowledge 
gained through NIOSH research and development; practical experience 
with existing technology; and other information, such as economic and 
technological feasibility. When responding, please address your comment 
to the topic and question number, for example, ``A. Miner Training on 
Refuge Alternatives, Question 1.'' Please explain the rationale 
supporting your views. To the extent possible, provide relevant 
information on which you rely, including past experience, studies and 
articles, and standard professional practices. Include any scientific 
or technical information or data related to shelter and escape methods 
or equipment, particularly advancements or improvements.
    MSHA is particularly interested in data and information that would 
help the Agency evaluate any escape or refuge options. Where 
appropriate, include cost data, such as cost for additional boreholes 
as mining advances, or reductions in costs, such as eliminating the 
cost of carbon dioxide scrubbing when breathable air is supplied 
through a borehole or piping from the surface.

A. Miner Training on Refuge Alternatives

    The NIOSH Research Report on Refuge Alternatives for Underground 
Coal Mines (NIOSH Report, Dec. 2007) included recommendations on 
training miners on refuge alternatives. It separately addressed motor 
task (hands-on) training on the operation of a refuge alternative, 
decision-making training on when to use a refuge alternative, and 
expectations training to help miners reduce the level of panic and 
anxiety associated with using a refuge alternative. MSHA's training 
requirements in the Refuge Alternatives rule include the types of 
training addressed in the NIOSH Report.
    MSHA's existing rule requires decision-making training during the 
quarterly mine emergency evacuation training and drills. Miners 
practice mine evacuation quarterly based on four varied scenarios (gas 
or water inundation, fire, explosion) and discuss when it is 
appropriate to use a refuge alternative. During the quarterly drill 
training, miners must also receive training on procedures for deploying 
and operating refuge alternatives and components. MSHA requires annual 
expectations training that includes hands-on (motor task) training in 
the deployment and operation of refuge alternatives and components 
under simulated, realistic mine emergency conditions. Again, this 
training emphasizes that the refuge alternative is an option only when 
escape is impossible.
    MSHA requests comment on the effectiveness of training provided to 
miners under the existing rule for deploying (e.g., the tent component 
of a prefabricated unit); operating (e.g., the air monitoring or 
breathable air component); and using (e.g., the airlock) refuge 
alternatives and components.
    1. At the time of the final rule, training units for refuge 
alternatives and components were not available. Now that some 
manufacturers offer training units, describe if and how such units have 
been incorporated into required refuge alternatives training and 
quarterly emergency mine evacuation training and drills. How effective 

[[Page 48595]]

these training units? What are the costs associated with the use of 
training units? What is the service life of a training unit?
    2. What publicly-available or commercial training products and 
guidance have you used for training miners about the deployment and use 
of refuge alternatives? In your experience, were these training aids 
adequate? If so, what features of the products or guidance were the 
most useful or effective and why? Please provide specific suggestions 
for improvement, if appropriate.
    3. Discuss training experiences, e.g., frequency of miners' 
training needs for in-place shelters and prefabricated units.

B. In-Place Shelters

    For purposes of this request for information, an ``in-place 
shelter'' is a unit consisting of 15 pounds per square inch (psi) 
stoppings constructed prior to an event in a secure space with an 
isolated atmosphere that meets the refuge alternative requirements in 
30 CFR parts 7 and 75, and that provides breathable air using either 
boreholes or pipelines from a surface installed compressor or fan. The 
in-place shelter has an unlimited air supply as opposed to 96 hours of 
air generally provided in cylinders. In addition to providing shelter 
until rescue, the in-place shelter could be used by miners during an 
evacuation as a ``stopping point'' to establish communications, to plan 
for the remainder of the escape, and possibly to refill personal air 
supplies, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), or to 
transfer to a fresh self-contained self-rescue (SCSR) device.
    MSHA requests comment on the following related to the utility, 
advantages, and disadvantages of in-place shelters:
    4. How could in-place shelters improve safety for escaping miners 
if they were incorporated into an evacuation and SCBA/SCSR storage 
plan? MSHA requests information on how to design an escape strategy 
using one or more in-place shelters to facilitate escape.
    5. Stoppings for in-place shelters must be at least 15 psi. MSHA 
seeks information and supporting rationale on the adequacy of 15 psi 
stoppings to assure the post-explosion integrity of SCSRs (or SCBAs) 
stored in an in-place shelter located between adjacent escapeways.
    6. Currently, refuge alternatives are required to be located within 
1,000 feet of the face. Provide options for the location of in-place 
shelters that provide equivalent protection and include your rationale 
for the options.
    7. If there is an in-place shelter located between the working face 
and the mouth of the section, what are the advantages and disadvantages 
of also requiring a prefabricated refuge alternative within 1,000 feet 
of the face?
    8. Discuss (or list) the advantages, disadvantages, and 
restrictions on providing breathable air and communication through a 
borehole to an in-place shelter. Please share your experiences with 
implementation of in-place shelters, e.g., surface access rights, 
difficult terrain, limited access, other land uses, and cost.
    9. What are appropriate design characteristics, including doors, 
for a stopping used to construct an in-place shelter to ensure an 
isolated atmosphere following a mine emergency?
    10. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of (1) an in-place 
shelter and (2) a prefabricated refuge alternative. Please include 
specific costs, such as the cost of installation of piping and 
associated components to an in-place shelter. What are the maintenance 
costs for (1) an in-place shelter and (2) a prefabricated refuge 
    11. MSHA standards require the doors of the in-place shelter to 
remain closed to maintain an isolated atmosphere and prevent the 
accumulation of methane or toxic gases and to protect the interior 
components from overpressure and flash fire. Describe how the in-place 
shelter could be ventilated during normal mining operations to prevent 
coal dust, smoke, and gas accumulations in the interior of the in-place 
    12. If mine air is used to ventilate the in-place shelter, what 
concentrations of carbon monoxide, methane, and other toxic gases 
should an in-place shelter be designed to purge following an explosion 
or fire to accomplish the initial purge in 20 minutes?
    13. How can piping used to supply breathable air to an in-place 
shelter be protected from mining activity, as well as an explosion or 
fire? Explain what type of piping and protection should be used and 
    14. If the pipe is buried or covered, how could the operator 
maintain and inspect the pipe to ensure that breathable air can be 
provided in acceptable quantities to the in-place shelter?
    15. Breathable air, air monitoring, and harmful gas removal 
components of refuge alternatives must be approved under 30 CFR part 7 
by December 31, 2013. What are the specific costs for retrofitting 
existing prefabricated refuge alternatives to meet MSHA's part 7 
approval criteria? How do these costs compare to the costs associated 
with installing in-place shelters?
    16. Discuss technology that can be used to provide emergency 
communications to the in-place shelter by taking advantage of the 
protected piping system or borehole that delivers breathable air.

C. Escape Methodology

    MSHA considers long-term shelter in a refuge alternative as a last 
resort to protect persons who are unable to escape from an underground 
coal mine. Refuge alternatives can also be used to facilitate escape by 
sustaining trapped miners until they receive communications regarding 
escape options. NIOSH stated, in its report on refuge alternatives, 

. . . the potential of refuge alternatives to save lives will only 
be realized to the extent that mine operators develop comprehensive 
escape and rescue plans that incorporate refuge alternatives.

    Manufacturers are continuing to conduct research and develop 
improved SCSRs with greater than one-hour rated capacities. 
Additionally, the use of SCBAs in conjunction with refill stations may 
provide greater than one-hour rated breathing capacities. These 
developments may impact escape strategies in the future and potentially 
increase the distances permitted between SCSR caches or SCBA refill 
    MSHA requests information related to incorporating in-place 
shelters into the escape strategy in mine evacuation plans.
    17. If an SCBA system is used, discuss the feasibility of using 
full-face respirator masks, recognizing the need for fit testing and 
for miners to be clean shaven.
    18. Please provide information regarding how maximum distances 
between in-place shelters could be affected by using improved SCSRs or 
SCBAs with greater than one-hour ratings.

D. Replacement of Brass Fittings

    On January 9, 2011, a catastrophic failure occurred in an oxygen 
cylinder fitting connected to the breathable air system in a refuge 
alternative located in an underground coal mine. Subsequently, a brass 
fitting failure in a second refuge alternative was discovered, and MSHA 
learned that cracks had been discovered in both the brass fittings and 
cylinder valves of a third refuge alternative.
    The refuge alternative manufacturer, state inspectors, and MSHA 
examined the refuge alternatives to determine the

[[Page 48596]]

cause of the failures. MSHA sent representative samples of the brass 
fittings to the OSHA Salt Lake City Technical Center (SLTC) laboratory. 
The OSHA report stated the following:

    The analysis performed at the SLTC revealed that the cracks are 
a result of stress-corrosion cracking (SCC) and the evidence 
suggests that dezincification is a contributing factor. The stress-
corrosion cracks that have formed in the fittings and valves 
indicate that they are on the path to failure. The demonstrated 
short and unpredictable service life of the CGA brass valves and 
fittings is troublesome. The current situation left unchecked 
represents a safety hazard.

    As a result of the premature failures of brass valves and fittings 
on breathable air components, the West Virginia Office of Miners' 
Health Safety & Training (WVOMHS&T) issued an order on October 14, 2011 
(Order), requiring the refitting of state-approved underground mine 
shelters. The Order generally established an October 31, 2011 deadline 
for manufacturers to inspect all mine shelters. In accordance with the 
Order, shelters found to contain valves or fittings showing signs of 
corrosion, stress corrosion cracking, or having improper dimensions 
were to be taken out of service immediately, unless the manufacturer 
provided a signed statement that the shelter is safe to remain in 
service until the scheduled refit date. The Order further required 
replacement of all brass compressed gas cylinder valves and associated 
fittings used in mine shelters by the scheduled refit date.
    MSHA agreed with WVOMHS&T in recognizing the safety hazard 
associated with existing brass valves and fittings and concurred with 
the procedures established in the Order. The Order affected all West 
Virginia-approved refuge alternatives regardless of the state in which 
the units are used; however, refuge alternatives that are not West 
Virginia-approved are not subject to the Order. MSHA issued a policy 
consistent with the WVOMHS&T Order to address the hazard with respect 
to refuge alternatives in all underground coal mines. The policy 
provides for timely replacement of brass valves and fittings.
    MSHA requests comments and information related to the replacement 
of brass fittings and valves in refuge alternatives.
    19. Brass fittings and cylinder valves used in refuge alternatives 
have exhibited degradation over time and are currently being replaced 
by fittings and valves made from materials such as Monel and stainless 
steel. Please provide information regarding the need for a predictive 
maintenance or replacement schedule for these new fittings and valves 
to guard against leakage or failure and the cost to retrofit and 
maintain these units. Include information from specific experience, if 

E. Part 7 Testing and Approval

    The approval requirements for refuge alternatives are included in 
30 CFR part 7--Testing by Applicant or Third-Party. The regulation for 
refuge alternatives provides approval criteria, allows alternatives to 
the requirements, and promotes the development of new technology.
    MSHA has a 20-year history of administering the part 7 approval 
program. Subpart L of part 7 requires that an applicant or a third-
party must test the refuge alternative or component. The applicant, 
usually a manufacturer, provides the required information and test 
results to MSHA to demonstrate that the refuge alternative or component 
meets the applicable technical requirements and test criteria. MSHA 
will issue an approval for a refuge alternative or one of its 
components based on the Agency's evaluation of the information and test 
results submitted with the approval application. The MSHA approval 
under part 7 assures operators and miners that the refuge alternative 
can be used safely and effectively in underground coal mines and that 
the components can be used safely.
    MSHA requests comment on the following testing and approval issues:
    20. Based on your experience, what issues have arisen during the 
operation, calibration, or maintenance of gas monitoring equipment?
    21. Based on your experience with the part 7 approval requirements 
for refuge alternatives and components, provide other options that 
offer equivalent product performance, thus assuring equivalent or 
greater protection for miners.

F. Apparent Temperature

    Apparent temperature is a measure of relative discomfort due to the 
combined effects of air movement, heat, and humidity on the human body. 
The likelihood of adverse effects from heat may vary with a person's 
age, health, and body characteristics; however, core body temperatures 
in excess of 104[deg]F are considered life threatening, with severe 
heat exhaustion or heat stroke possible after prolonged exposure or 
significant physical activity. NIOSH recommended that the apparent 
temperature within the occupied refuge alternative should not exceed 
    Existing MSHA regulations require that the apparent temperature in 
a refuge alternative must be controlled so that, when it is used in 
accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and defined 
limitations, the apparent temperature in the fully-occupied refuge 
alternative does not exceed 95[deg]F. MSHA requires that ERPs specify 
the maximum mine air temperature at each location where a refuge 
alternative will be placed, as well as the maximum mine air temperature 
under which the refuge alternative is designed to operate when the unit 
is fully occupied.
    MSHA requests the following information related to the apparent 
temperature in a fully-occupied refuge alternative:
    22. Provide information on the availability, use, and cost of air 
conditioning units in refuge alternatives to control apparent 
    23. Please provide information on the effects outside air 
temperatures have on the apparent temperatures in in-place shelters; 
include your rationale.

G. Physiological and Psychological Factors

    MSHA developed the refuge alternatives rule based on Agency data 
and experience, NIOSH recommendations, research on available and 
developing technology, state regulations, and comments and testimony 
from the mining community. MSHA considers refuge alternatives as a last 
resort to protect persons who are unable to escape from an underground 
coal mine in the event of an emergency. When miners have no other 
option and must endure the conditions in refuge alternatives for up to 
96 hours, the physical and mental stress of the occupants must be 
    During rulemaking, several commenters expressed concern that refuge 
alternatives have not been proven effective in an actual mine and that 
human subject testing is necessary to assure proper functioning and 
durability of the units. In the preamble to the final rule, on the 
issue of human subject testing, MSHA stated:

* * * MSHA is aware that NIOSH is developing a protocol and seeking 
approval for human subject testing. If approved, the results of this 
human subject testing will not be available prior to the effective 
date of the final rule. The Agency [MSHA] will consider the results 
of such testing for future rulemaking, if warranted. (73 FR 80658)

NIOSH's work in this area is ongoing. At this time, MSHA is not aware 
of any 96-hour human subject testing conducted in the United States. 
However, MSHA is aware of shorter duration tests, and tests where 
miners were allowed to enter and leave the refuge alternative, that 

[[Page 48597]]

been conducted in the United States in the years since the final rule.
    MSHA requests comment on the following related to the physiological 
and psychological factors for miners in a refuge alternative:
    24. Provide comments on miners' confidence in the effectiveness of 
existing refuge alternatives or their willingness to use one during an 
    25. Recognizing that an in-place shelter would allow direct 
connection to the surface, through which unlimited breathable air and 
communications can be provided, and would not require a miner to depend 
on a carbon dioxide scrubbing system, how might the use of in-place 
shelters affect a miner's psychological and physiological well-being 
when escape is impossible?
    26. Regarding space and volume available to miners, what advantages 
do in-place shelters provide over prefabricated units with regard to 
the psychological and physiological well-being of trapped miners? 
Please be specific.

H. Additional Requests for Information

    Since the MINER Act was passed, MSHA, mine operators, miners, 
refuge alternative manufacturers, and states have gained experience in 
the deployment, use, maintenance, and inspection of refuge 
alternatives. Based on this experience, MSHA requests comment on the 
following issues related to the existing refuge alternative rule:
    27. What innovations in the areas of escape and refuge should be 
considered to improve miner safety?
    28. Some manufacturers conduct inspections of prefabricated refuge 
alternatives at regular intervals, such as every 6 months. Based on 
your experience, what would be an appropriate examination interval for 
refuge alternatives and what should this examination include? Please be 
specific and include detailed rationale for your recommendation. Who 
should conduct these examinations and what qualifications or training 
should the person conducting these examinations possess?
    29. Currently, state-approved, prefabricated structural components 
that were accepted in ERPs prior to March 2, 2009, are grandfathered 
until December 31, 2018. What would be the impact of changing the 
grandfathering allowance for structural components and requiring an 
earlier date for part 7 approvals?
    30. How can an inflatable stopping (to be installed post-event) be 
an effective and safe means for creating a protected, secure space with 
an isolated atmosphere? What factors should MSHA consider when 
determining whether to allow the use of inflatable stoppings in 
conjunction with boreholes or piping to provide effective shelter?
    31. Please provide information regarding the prevention of oxygen 
enrichment (greater than 23%) in the interior atmosphere of a refuge 
alternative when only oxygen is provided by breathable air components 
over a period of 96 hours.
    Please provide any other data or information that you think would 
be useful to MSHA as the Agency evaluates the effectiveness of its 
regulations and standards related to refuge alternatives in underground 
coal mines.

List of Subjects

30 CFR Part 7

    Coal mines, Incorporation by reference, Mine safety and health, 
Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Underground mining.

30 CFR Part 75

    Coal mines, Mine safety and health, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Safety, Training programs, Underground mining.

    Authority: 30 U.S.C. 811.

    Dated: August 2, 2013.
Joseph A. Main,
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.
[FR Doc. 2013-19029 Filed 8-7-13; 8:45 am]