(CN) - The D.C. Circuit handed a miners' union a partial victory in its challenge of federal mine safety regulations, saying the government failed to explain why it chose to require annual instead of quarterly training sessions on seeking refuge in case of an accident.
In response to several high-profile incidents of trapped miners, the Mine Safety and Health Administration issued revised mine safety rules in 2008 under a congressional directive.
The United Mine Workers of America challenged two provisions of the new rules: the frequency of refuge training drills and the amount of space required per miner in refuges.
Pointing to recommendations from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the union said the new rule should require miners to practice using their refuge suits and chambers every three months, instead of once a year.
The institute conducted research indicating that after a year, only 10 percent of miners could remember the six steps for donning a self-contained rescue suit. By contrast, 70 percent of miners who practiced the steps on a quarterly basis remembered the steps.
If 90 percent of miners couldn't remember these six steps after one year, it would be even more difficult to recall the 18 sequential steps involved in activating and maintaining a refuge chamber, according to the institute, which recommended quarterly training.
The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., agreed, ruling that the decision to do the training on a yearly basis "defies expert record evidence." It remanded the rule without vacating it, requiring the mining safety agency to explain its reasoning for this decision.
The miners also argued against a minimum 60-square-foot requirement for refuge spaces, saying that for short or narrow mines, this might result in coffin-shaped spaces. It also said the rule didn't consider larger people.
The D.C. Circuit rejected these claims, pointing to mining companies' comments that the requirement of higher-volume spaces would reduce the effectiveness of refuge chambers.
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