The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation to improve communication and tracking capabilities within our nation's mines. Over the past few years, several mine tragedies resulting in multiple deaths have brought nationwide attention to the significance of mine and miner safety. The Sago mine explosion in West Virginia in 2006, followed by the 2007 disaster at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah, has underscored the need for such improvements.

"Mining families who watch their loved ones go down into the mine every day, need to know that we will be able to communicate in the event of an emergency. As we learned in Utah's Crandall Canyon mine tragedy, there's a gap in our ability to find these miners in deep underground mines. We need next-generation technology in order to be able to track and communicate with mine workers and now is the time to jump-start that effort," said Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT).

Between 2000 and 2006, mine related accidents have led to nearly 40,000 injuries and resulted in 234 deaths.

H.R. 3877, the Mine Communications Technology Innovation Act, authored by Rep. Matheson, is designed to accelerate efforts to develop new technologies and adapt existing technology to improve the communication services in mines, especially in emergency situations, in an effort to protect the life and health of miners.

It requires the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create a proposal to promote the research, development, and demonstration of miner tracking and communications systems.

NIST has a proven track record for such work. The agency has previously provided groups such as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Mine Health and Safety Administration (MHSA) with mine safety assistance.