The Mine Research Laboratory, run by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is one of the key sources of mine safety improvements, says Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association.
Mine safety concerns in Idaho have picked up in part because of a series of accidents and deaths at Hecla Mining Co.'s Lucky Friday mine, in Mullan.
Diane Porter, deputy director of the institute, says Hecla is eager to be involved in ongoing safety research conducted out of the Spokane office.
"The Lucky Friday people at Hecla have been very helpful, providing us opportunities to resume research in North Idaho," she said.
Two of the lab's jobs have already been filled, and the rest are likely to be filled by fall, Porter says.
In 2002 the Spokane NIOSH office had more than 90 workers. Four years ago it was down to 50. Today it's at roughly 35 jobs, Porter says.
The job erosion occurred as federal managers shifted jobs and money to East Coast centers, including the main NIOSH mine safety center in Pittsburgh.
NIOSH didn't need to seek additional money to budget the new jobs, Porter says. The new jobs will be funded from already-budgeted money available because of unfilled positions, she says.
NIOSH is a federal agency that's been folded into the Centers for Disease Control, based in Atlanta.
Skaer says the lab is the only facility focused on rock mining safety and operations. Unlike the coal mining that dominates the eastern half of the country, western mining is heavily focused on hard rock mining, she says.