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Proximity rule aims to save lives underground

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Coal Mine Safety Board approved new rules requiring coal operators to install proximity equipment on continuous mining machines and other underground equipment. The technology is designed with safety in mind: It will shut down the machine if a worker gets too close.

“It will give the operator a warning in most cases the individual is there,” said board member Ted Hapney. “As they proceed, if they do not back up, the machine will actually stop movement.”

The guidelines call for detection equipment on the continuous miner, but allow for alternatives on other underground equipment like scoops or shuttle cars.

“We believe the continuous miners can operate in the mining sections and will not interfere with electrical stuff,” Hapney said. “We still have some reservations about some of the other equipment like shuttle cars and scoops.”

Another provision allows for wider cuts of coal. Industry members of the board sought the allowance, claiming it enabled the miner to stay in place much longer and not have to be moved.

“Instead of a 20-foot cut and moving, if you do a 30-foot cut correctly, you don’t spend as much time moving around and going place to place,” Hapney said.

The United Mine Workers of America members of the board, though not thrilled with the extended-cut allowance, said it wasn’t severe enough to warrant scuttling the entire bundle of measures, which the union deemed worthwhile for reducing injuries. 





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