Public Release: 

UT Arlington wins $1.3 million grant to develop miner safety training materials, film

University of Texas at Arlington

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IMAGE: This is Lisa London, executive director for the Division for Enterprise Development and principal investigator on the grant. view more

Credit: UT Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington has received a $1.3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to produce an oral history documentary for the U.S. mining industry.

The grant will also be used to develop accompanying multi-media components and leadership skills among first-line supervisors over the next three years.

NIOSH is a division of the CDC that conducts research on occupational safety and health topics. This project represents a collaborative effort between occupational health and safety training company, Safety Solutions International, the UT Arlington' Division for Enterprise Development and the Department of Art and Art History within the UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts.

The film will be based on the 1984 coal fire at the Wilberg Mine in Emery County, Utah, that killed 27 miners.

"The documentary, as well as the leadership training that the Division will deliver throughout the region, will advance the safety and health of workers in the mining industry," said Lisa London, executive director for the Division for Enterprise Development and principal investigator on the grant.

"We are honored to know that in telling the story of the Wilberg mine disaster through film, we will be creating a lasting resource that will save lives by raising awareness of hazards that still exist today."

UT Arlington's Division of Enterprise Development is the largest education center in the United States for the Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Mark Clive, a senior film lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, will lead production of the documentary, following a site visit to Utah this spring. While there, he will work with the project team to interview workers and first responders who directly experienced and investigated the disaster.

"That fire had a huge impact on the community and others around it," Clive said. "Our documentary will be compelling and explain what was long considered one of the worst coal mining disasters in U.S. history. Viewers will see sophisticated animation, graphic design and scenic recreation to rival films of this nature that one might typically view on PBS or the History Channel."

Clive added that the project represents an exciting opportunity for collaboration between two entities that play quite different roles at the University.

"This will present us with an opportunity to hone entrepreneurial skills and create new opportunities for research and development," he said. "It also demonstrates a continuation of our community service learning efforts since we will be providing the nation with a training video from the lessons learned at Wilberg."

On Dec. 19, 1984, 28 people - more than twice the size of a typical crew - were present in the mine's Fifth Right longwall section as the crew neared completion of a new 24-hour world-production record.

At about 9 p.m., fire broke out in First North near the entrance to the Fifth Right section. Within minutes, smoke and lethal gases traveled the 2,400 feet down Fifth Right to the working face of the longwall. One miner escaped, but 18 miners and 9 company officials were trapped and killed.

According to a report by the United States Mine Rescue Association, it took a full year before all of the bodies could be recovered.

In the spring of 1987, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration ruled that the Wilberg fire was caused by a faulty air compressor that was allowed to run unattended in a non-fireproofed area. MSHA issued 34 citations against Utah Power and Light and Emery Mining Company, the mine's operator. Nine of the citations were for violations that directly contributed to the disaster.

MSHA itself received strong criticism from the United Mine Workers of America, in part for failing to issue these same citations when it inspected the mine only days before the fire. The union also questioned MSHA's focus on the cause of the fire rather than the cause of the deaths, insisting that miners died, not because there was a fire, but because they had no escape route.

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About the UT Arlington Division for Enterprise Development

The Division for Enterprise Development at The University of Texas at Arlington supports the University's missions of public service, community outreach and lifelong learning. The Division is comprised of a number of diverse training and consulting programs. The Division maintains a central focus on improving employability, enhancing job skills, and identifying career pathways for our constituents. Our dedicated team of professionals shares one goal: an unwavering commitment to public service. Visit http://www.uta.edu/ded for more information.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more. Follow #UTAdna on Twitter.

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