Proximity Detectors Absent in Most West Virginia Mines

November 22, 2013

Four percent of underground equipment in West Virginia coal mines are fitted with detectors that automatically shut down mobile machinery when people get too close, according to a state survey.

The Charleston Gazette reported the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training conducted the survey in August of 1,800 continuous mining machines, shuttle cars, roof bolters, scoops and other mobile equipment.

It found that 74 pieces of the equipment had proximity detection systems that can prevent miners from being crushed or pinned.

State mine safety director Eugene White says he expects the number to increase as mine operators anticipate a federal rule requiring such proximity devices to be implemented.

The survey also said blind-spot cameras have been installed on 86 pieces of underground equipment.

But according to the National institute for Occupational Safety and Health, cameras can be tricky in underground mines due to poor lighting, dust and the challenge to keep them clean.

And while proximity detectors shut off equipment automatically, equipment operators using cameras still must take action quickly enough to prevent a collision.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has worked on proposals that would mandate the use of proximity detection systems.

One rule covering continuous mining machines remains stalled within MSHA. Another addressing all other mobile underground equipment has been pending at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than two years.

MSHA says 30 miners died and 200 were injured underground nationwide between 1984 and 2010 when they became crushed, pinned or struck by continuous mining machines.

Efforts by state mine safety officials to require proximity detection systems in mines began last decade but also have stalled.

White told members of the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety last month about the more than 150 proximity detection systems and cameras already in use in underground mines.

“There are a lot of companies acting on their own,” White told the board. “This is a work in progress.”

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