Coal mine works at safety

— As rescuers searched Tuesday for workers trapped in a West Virginia coal mine, a local administrator praised the safety record and procedures at a coal mine in Routt County.

Ron Spangler is the director of human resources at Twentymile Coal Co., a mining and shipping facility between Hayden and Oak Creek.

Twentymile is the most productive mine in Colorado and one of the largest underground mines in the United States, according to Twentymile's parent company, Peabody Energy of St. Louis.

Twentymile is not likely to experience an explosion like the one -- of an unknown origin -- that trapped 13 miners inside the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., early Monday morning, Spangler said.

"There is nothing even remotely similar here to what is happening, to my knowledge, back east," Spangler said.

"We have never had any sort of a loss of life situation or anything close to that here, related to an explosion or energy release."

On Tuesday night, rescuers reported that 12 miners were found alive. Early this morning, families learned that 11 of those 12 had died.

Rescuers have said they thought the miners were in an area more than two miles deep, reached by a sloping tunnel rather than a vertical shaft.

Miners also enter and leave Twentymile -- where coal is produced at depths between 700 and 1,600 feet, via a sloping tunnel.

"We drive into our mine," Spangler said.

Spangler has worked at Twentymile for 13 years and said it has an outstanding safety ecord.

"Our incident rate in 2005 was 1.8 incidents for 200,000 man-hours of work, which is exceptionally low," he said. "We work hard to get our employees to recognize unsafe conditions, and then act upon them when they see something."

Spangler said regular employee trainings teach workers safety measures including how to recognize "pinch points" -- where workers could be pinched between two pieces of machinery in a confined area -- and how to monitor carbon monoxide levels in mine shafts.

"We have automated monitoring, and workers carry individual monitors that they check on a very regular basis," he said.

Twentymile Coal Co. employs nearly 500 people and shipped more than 9 million tons of coal last year to customers in the Western United States and Mexico.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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