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The US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched an initiative to improve the effectiveness of fire suppression equipment, following the death of a haul truck driver in September after his vehicle caught fire.

The MSHA is tightening up inspection and regulation of fire suppression equipment, announcing on a conference call reported by law firm Husch Blackwell in JD Supra that fire suppression systems are to be tested at least once a year. Mine operators are also encouraged to contact individual equipment manufacturers for advice if systems are faulty.

The administration’s initiative also focuses on improving safety training and ensuring mine workers have safe and effective escape routes in case of a fire. The MSHA said that it is “imperative” that miners have a means to exit burning vehicles safely, and that operations are built with escape routes in mind to ensure that injuries and deaths are minimised if fire suppression systems are ineffective.

On the matter of training, the MSHA will insist that companies show evidence of regular training schemes offered to workers. “Mine operators should provide refresher training as needed,” said the administration in a press release.

“Adequate task training must be performed so equipment operators and mechanics will be able to maintain equipment, respond correctly to alarms, use fire suppression systems properly, and safely dismount equipment in an emergency.

The MSHA released a presentation, which was initially an internal document produced in the wake of the September death, showing miners  how to properly inspect a range of components such as hoses, valves and nozzles, and outlining when they should be repaired or replaced.

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The presentation also sets out a means of evaluating and categorising fire hazards, and how resources should be used to tackle fires of different scales. The document reports that if a haulage truck weighing 100 tonnes catches fire, up to 20 nozzles will be required to deal with the blaze, whereas 60 nozzles are to be used for trucks weighing 400 tonnes.

The programme follows the news earlier this week that the MSHA has reclaimed $5.2m in unpaid safety fines, following an extension of the Scofflaw Program, an initiative to force mines that have committed safety offences to pay their fines punctually.

The additional funds will help the administration implement new safety programmes, such as the fire suppression scheme, as the sector aims to improve safety.

“A robust Scofflaw Program is critical to protecting the health and safety of our nation’s miners,” said David G Zatezalo, assistant secretary of labour for mine safety and health. “Failure to pay penalties is unfair to both miners who deserve safe workplaces as well as operators who play by the rules.”