Garth J. Nielsen

Beginning next week, Utah will have a new head of coal mine safety. The Utah Labor Commission announced Thursday that Garth J. Nielsen will become the first-ever director of the state's new Office of Coal Mine Safety, effective Monday.

The office will operate under the umbrella of the Division of Boiler and Elevator Safety, division director Pete Hackford said.

The office was established at the recommendation of the Utah Mine Safety Commission, appointed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. following the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster last summer. In August 2007, six mine workers were trapped after the mine collapsed, then days later, three rescue workers died trying to reach them. The miners were never found and the mine was permanently shuttered.

The office exists to maximize coal mine safety, prevent coal mine accidents and provide for effective coal mine accident response, according to a news release announcing Nielsen's appointment.

Nielsen has been employed in the mining industry for 36 years, most recently as director of mine development at Interwest Mining. While at Interwest, he was responsible for recruiting, hiring and training employees.

Throughout his mining career, Nielsen said, he has had vast experience in virtually every aspect of underground coal mining.

"I started up when I was 19 years old," he said. "I started out shoveling on the belt and worked my way up through to mine manager."

He said his experience would help him greatly in developing improved safety plans for Utah coal mines.

"I know what the people do, I know what conditions they work in, and I know all the different thought processes of all the different occupations that people do underground, all the way from the people who are shoveling the belt to the person that is running the operation," Nielsen said.

The release stated that as director of the office, Nielsen will be responsible for monitoring mine safety, in addition to acting as Utah liaison to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"I really do believe that we will be able to make a difference in coal mine safety in the state of Utah," he said. "We will work very hard to come up with policies and procedures that will benefit miners and promote and ensure mine safety."

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