West Virginia task forces recommends proximity detection systems

September 30, 2013

The West Virginia Mine Safety Technology Task Force will recommend that West Virginia adopt a rule that would require coal mine use proximity detection systems in underground coal mines.

The task force will make the recommendation to the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety on Oct. 2, the West Virginia Gazette reported.

In August, The West Virginia Gazette reported that a five-year old proposal by a team of state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training inspectors calling for proximity detection had not been acted on. The task force resurrected the proposal, approving a draft rule for consideration by the mine safety board, according to a meeting agenda and board administrator Joel Watts.

In September 2008, the inspection team recommended the state require all underground mine operators to install proximity detection systems to shut off mining equipment when it gets too close to workers. Safety experts say these systems, being adopted by some mine operators voluntarily, can prevent being crushed by equipment, one of the most common types of coal-mining accidents.

Between 1984 and 2010, 30 miners died and 220 were injured nationwide when they became crushed, pinned or struck by continuous mining machines underground. Mine safety experts say these deaths and injuries could be prevented if mine operators installed proximity detection devices, the West Virginia Gazette reported.

On the federal level, two separate U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) rules to require proximity detection systems remain stalled, one at MSHA and the other at the White House.

MSHA chief Joe Main has touted the fact that some mine operators are installing proximity detectors without a legal mandate to do so. But the voluntary measures cover only about one-fourth of the continuous mining machines in use around the country, according to MSHA.

In June 2008, the state's Mine Safety Technology Task Force planned to have a draft regulation ready by January 2009 so it could become effective by June 2009, according to meeting minutes and other records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The task force would like to come up with a regulation before federal requirements are proposed on proximity devices,” said the minutes, from a June 18-19 meeting in Charleston.

In a Sept. 7, 2008, memo, four top state mine inspectors recommended specific language that would have given mine operators a year to install proximity detection systems.

“It is our belief that the use of a device, such as the proximity warning system, will be necessary if we are to ever eliminate injuries of this type,” the memo said.

But the task force, a group from industry, labor and academia charged with reviewing new mining technologies and recommending them to regulators and the industry, never issued a formal recommendation to the mine safety board. Also, the board never acted on its own to require proximity detection systems.



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