Coal Tattoo

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CSE Corp. President Scott Shearer with one of his company’s SR-100 self-contained self rescuer units. Photo by AP.

 So far this week, we’ve had a blog post and this print story detailing the findings of the two-year National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigation of what we now know are critical defects with an unknown number of the 70,000 CSE Corp. SR-100 model self contained self rescuers that coal miners around the country rely on to help them safely escape in the event of an underground mine fire or explosion.

What we don’t know is what — if anything — the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and NIOSH are going to do about it. The best we got out of NIOSH was this:

“We’ve had several meetings,” said Maryann D’Alessandro, director of NIOSH’s personal protective technology laboratory. “We’ll continue to have meetings.”

MSHA chief Joe Main wouldn’t even come to the phone for an interview. At first, Main said through a spokeswoman that he wanted more time to review the NIOSH report.  I pointed out the report was only 24 pages long and had been provided to MSHA on last Friday — and that Main was personally briefed on the findings back in January — and then MSHA changed its story. Main wanted more time to discuss the findings with NIOSH, I was told.

Yesterday, NIOSH spokesman Fred Blosser helpfully pointed out to me that the initial cover letter from NIOSH chief John Howard to Joe Main that was released to the media on Monday was actually an earlier draft, and not the version that was signed and sent.  What’s the difference? Well, check out the original version:

That original language that I’ve highlighted says:

NIOSH looks forward to participating with MSHA in the planning and resolution of issues arising from the Technical Report, pursuant to Section IV (2) of the Memorandum of Understanding, by providing appropriate user notices for mine users and other uses and considering revocation jointly.

And now check out the final version that NIOSH sent to MSHA:

That’s right, the sentence now says:

NIOSH looks forward to participating with MSHA in the planning and resolution of issues arising from the Technical Report, pursuant to Section IV (2) of the Memorandum of Understanding, by providing appropriate user notices for miner users and other users and considering other appropriate joint actions.

Somehow, the word “revocation” has magically disappeared from the letter. I told Blosser that seemed interesting and he said:

The wording in the final version reflects that there are various remedial actions that NIOSH and MSHA can consider under the regs; revocation is not the only one. 

 For those who aren’t familiar with it, here’s a link to a 1995 Federal Register notice that contains this MOU that the agencies are talking about. The section referred to in both versions of Howard’s letter reads this way:

MSHA and NIOSH will jointly participate in the planning and resolution of complaints involving MSHA/NIOSH approved respirators. Such joint participation will include all activities related to product retrofit, recalls, stop sale notices, user notices, and revocation of prior certifications.

 So the question remains – what are MSHA and NIOSH going to do about this? And how long will miners around the country be stuck with SCSRs that they aren’t quite sure will work when they need them?