CHARLESTON, W.Va. — New rules from the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety could lead to a reduction in accidents in which miners are struck by machinery underground.
The darkened environment, loud noise, and close quarters have often led to deadly accidents in underground mining in the past. Members of the state’s Mine Safety Board say technology has reached the point where a lot of that could be reduced or hopefully eliminated.
“It tackles a lot of the issues the board has worked years to identify,” said Joel Watts, administrator for the Mine Safe Board. “We’ve got new regulations on proximity detectors, cameras, clothing, audible warning sounds and visible warning signs.”
The most advanced technology would require miners to wear a sensor and detection equipment placed on all moving machinery underground. The technology would sound a warning if the machine came within five feet of a sensor and at three feet would shut the machine off.
“After years of study we’re not getting to that point we’re able to identify a technology that may work to prevent those accidents,” Watts said.
Watts said much of the research for the proximity detectors has been paid for by the industry with guidance from the mine safety board. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has long studied improved safety technology, but the feds aren’t there yet. Watts said West Virginia isn’t waiting on the federal government and both the United Mine Workers and coal operators are in full agreement on the measures.
The proposed rule, which will go out for a 30 day comment period, requires the proximity equipment be installed in six months on new mining machinery. Existing mine machinery would have three years to have the new equipment added. Watts said while that sounds like a long threshold, the rules would require the detection gear be added when a machine is pulled to the surface for service work.
“While we have a higher threshold, there’s not a lot of machines making it three years without being refurbished,” Watts said. “Which means they would have to add the proximity equipment.”
The public comment period will start soon and the rule can be viewed through the Secretary of State of the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.