By Chris Larson
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — Mine safety took a step forward today with the final committee approval of The Utah Research Institute for Mine Safety and Productivity bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Wheatley, D–Murray.
HB149 is now on the Senate’s calendar for a final vote, having received near unanimous support from the House of Representatives and a favorable recommendation from the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.
The bill would name the University of Utah Center for Mining Safety and Health Excellence as the Utah Research Institute for Mine Safety and Productivity. According to Wheatley, the University of Utah is the only University in the nation that specifically identifies and studies mine safety issues.
The University of Utah will now seek funds from Rio Tinto and other mining entities—as well as federal grant money designated for mining research—to boost mine safety research and collaboration. The new research institute will also act as an institute for mining companies, land owners, and the state to collaborate on mining issues in Utah.
“These men and women help produce the electricity that we take for granted every day and it all comes from coal,” Wheatley said. “In this industry, safety is first and foremost, as it should be.”
A similar bill for increased spending and research into mine safety was initially proposed in 2007 after the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster but was quickly forgotten about during the recession in 2008.
“A lot of people don’t pay attention to the mining industry unless there is a casualty,” Wheatley said. “We flip on the lights every day. Where does the energy come from? It comes from coal.”
Dennis Adrohain worked for PacifiCorp (owner of Rocky Mountain Power) for 42 year and said that the company’s number one priority was mine safety.
“When we called reports up to our bosses, they didn’t ask you how much coal you had or what you production was. They asked if everyone was ok. They wanted to know about even a little smashed finger or any near misses,” Adrohain said.
That attention to safety should be of utmost importance to everyone involved in coal mining, said Adrohain. Company departments, unions, government agencies, and miners themselves all practice oversight, but mining remains a dangerous business, he said.
“You learn to count on your partners and the other men beside you because at any moment you or your friend could be taken out by an accident. I had one guy tell me if you work in the mines long enough you will pack out one of your best friends or your best friend will pack you out of the mine dead and I’ve done that three times,” Adrohain said.
Most accidents come as a result of somebody simply not paying attention or not following a regulation, Adrohain said, but continued oversight from the federal agency Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has helped make mining operations safer.
According to Adrohain, who is co-chairman of the Miners’ Memorial of Carbon County, protecting life in mines is only one part of the mining community. Memorializing those who have died in keeping Utah’s infrastructure running is also important. A new monument will memorialize the 1357 coal miners who have died in Carbon County mines. It will be constructed with a base of black granite slabs and names of each of the deceased miners will be etched into brass plates fixed on the memorial. Finally, a large bronze statue designed by Gary Prazen and Danny Blanton, will stand atop the memorial.
“We don’t just want to remember the miners who perished. We want the families to be remembered because they pulled up their boot straps and became pillars of the community,” Adrohain said.
Brett Harvey, former CEO of PacifiCorp and CONSOL Energy, and Dave Lauriski, former Assistant Secretary of Labor, will dedicate the memorial on September 7 of this year.