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Lessons learned from the miracle in the mine shaft

August 2, 2002
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One day, some day, every person who's responsible for the safety and health of employees at a work site comes face to face with an emergency.

Probably won't be nine miners trapped almost 250 feet underground for more than three days, like the heart-stopping drama that unfolded last week in the Quecreek Mine about 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. But there are lessons you can take from that heroic rescue and apply to your own workplace in almost any type of emergency:

Leadership - Who's going to make split-second decisions that could mean life or death? What's your chain of command? What's your role?

Communications - How quickly can you get help? Are your emergency phone numbers handy? Facility blueprints? Material safety data sheets? Chemical inventories? Communications equipment in place?

Resources - Do you have the emergency and rescue equipment you need on site? How's your relationship with your nearest fire department? Have you gone over facility plans with them? Every second counts.

Commitment - Is your top management committed to emergency planning? Will they be there when you need them? Pennsylvania Governor Schweiker was onsite through most of the ordeal, rallying workers, comforting families, and greeting each man by name and accompanying his stretcher as each one came up.

Teamwork - Do your employees know what to do in an emergency? Will they pull together, or scatter? "We worked as a team," one of the miners told The Philadelphia Inquirer. In the cold, dark, wet shaft filled with bad air, the miners literally tied themselves together with a pull cord run through belt loops. They conserved what little light they had by keeping their headlamps off. They split a sandwich, huddled around each other for warmth in the chin-deep, 55-degree water, and helped each other fight the low points. No one panicked - above or below ground.

How would it be at your work site?

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