Under the MSHA plan, miners who rove around underground -- such as safety examiners or water pumping crewmen who don't have easy access to backup caches of units -- must be given a different model SCSR or a backup SR-100 to wear within 30 days. All other miners must be given new or backup equipment by April 26, 2013, and all SR-100s must be out of the mines by Dec. 31, 2013.
MSHA chief Joe Main has defended the nearly two-year timeline for replacing all of the units.
"Due to the large number of CSE SR-100s in underground coal mines, multiple SCSRs available to miners, the low probability of failure and the shortage of immediately available replacements, MSHA and NIOSH have determined that an orderly phase-out will better protect the safety of the miners than immediate withdrawal of the devices," Main said.
The United Mine Workers union has also defended the MSHA plan.
But Main has also said that SCSR manufacturers are able to produce about 6,000 new units a month, meaning the 66,000 SR-100s in the field now could be replaced in a little less than a year.
MSHA officials have said it's not that simple.
"For an orderly transition to take place, a number of steps are involved," said MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere. "It takes time to ramp up production, orders, distribution, etc. The various types of SCSRs have different characteristics, and mine operators can choose a particular unit or combination of units to meet the needs of their operation and the regulators."
"While we estimate that 6,000 total units can be produced per month, not all units can be interchanged in caches, on belts, etc.," Louviere said. "In addition, mine operators may want to stay consistent with the model they have chosen for their mine, and not co-mingle different SCSRs, to make training easier and lessen potential confusion for miners."
Last month's long-awaited NIOSH report confirmed a "critical" defect in the oxygen bottles meant to kick-start CSE's SR-100, the mining industry's most widely used model of SCSR.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.