Mining Publication: Determining the Root Causes of Flame Cutting and Welding Fires in Underground U.S. Coal Mines
One of the predominant causes of fires in underground coal mines is flame cutting and welding. These fires can lead to major events, such as the explosion that occurred on January 22, 2003, in an air shaft being constructed at the McElroy Mine near Moundsville, WV. Six contract employees were inside the shaft at the time of the explosion, and the explosion fatally injured three of the miners and seriously injured the other three. Understanding the root causes of these fires and explosions will help prevent these types of events from occurring in the future. Fires and explosions require fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source (heat). These three items are referred to as a fire triangle. The control of these three items in flame cutting and welding operations is required to prevent fires and/or explosions. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Reports of Investigation, MSHA Mine Accident Reports, and the MSHA Mining Industry Accident, Injuries, Employment, and Production Database were analyzed, and interviews and observations with mine workers and welders were conducted to determine the root causes of coal mine fires and explosions caused by flame cutting and welding operations. This paper discusses the root causes and potential means to reduce the number of fires and resulting fatalities and injuries caused by or due to flame cutting and welding.