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Understanding Miner Safety, Mine Conditions

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Joining us now to talk about some of the safety issues miners face is Mark Radomsky. He's the director of field services at Penn State's miner training program.

Mr. Radomsky, thanks for being with us.

Mr. MARK RADOMSKY (Director of Field Services, Pennsylvania State University): Nice to be with you.

NORRIS: Mining is something that people do in isolation. Unless you've done the work, you don't know much about how it's actually done. And for people who go into the mines every day carrying a lunch bucket and a safety pack and not much more than that, what are the primary safety issues that they face?

Mr. RADOMSKY: Well, there are a lot of them. It's an environment like none other. It's a very hostile environment and very full of hazards, a lot of different hazards. But those hazards depend on the mine. Every mine's different. But from the time that you go in you face problems with, you know slipping and falling, maybe hitting your head if you're not, you know, ducking. There's electrical problems. There's methane. There's roof fall. So it's just--it's a long litany of hazards that they face day to day.

NORRIS: Mining has always been one of the most dangerous jobs, less so now because of safety regulations. How has life changed for miners?

Mr. RADOMSKY: Well, -as you say, it's gradually gotten safer and safer. Every miner deserves a safe and healthy working environment, and that's the obligation of the mine operators. But we also need--or they also need commitment from the workers, and regulations are only a part of it. There's education and training, and then there's all the technological equipment and safety equipment. So it's not just the regulations. It's a lot of different things that everybody needs to be doing. They need to be responsible and accountable for their own safety and the safety of others.

NORRIS: You talked about some of the technological equipment that can monitor everything from air quality to the depth of the mine. How has that changed the nature of this work?

Mr. RADOMSKY: Well, it's changed dramatically. Actually one of the greatest danger is roof falls rather than explosions. Explosions capture our attention because they usually involve a lot of people, and the potential for, you know, a disaster's there. But you have so many advances in the roof support. For instance, you have a lot of built-in redundant safety devices in terms of electricity. Of course, with the gas, there's been many improvements in monitoring of gas and in ventilation as well. So there are improvements on every front.

NORRIS: If these 13 miners were able to barricade themselves in some sort of air pocket, what kind of equipment would they have with them right now to get them through these hours while they wait for the rescue crews?

Mr. RADOMSKY: Well, it's hard to say at this point. Their lunch buckets, some, you know, water, food. They could probably have some detectors for detecting the gas, the quality of the air. They're going to have hand tools. They're going to have probably some barricading equipment, and that's probably about it.

NORRIS: Today we heard that there were great concerns now about carbon monoxide. Should we assume that they have some sort of respiratory device to protect themselves against that?

Mr. RADOMSKY: Well, Michele, they do initially, but these devices are limited, the self-contained self-rescuer, which provides about an hour of oxygen, but after that they would have been relatively useless. So it's just a device that gives you protection until you get out of the mine.

NORRIS: Mark Radomsky, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. RADOMSKY: You're welcome. Nice to be with you.

NORRIS: Mark Radomsky is the director of field services at the miner training program at Penn State University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.