WV Board of Mine Health & Safety proposes new safeguards - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Board of Mine Health & Safety proposes new safeguards for underground workers

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The West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety is proposing regulatory changes that would make for a safer underground working environment for miners.

WVCMHS administrator Joel Watts said the proposed change would address new mining technologies, haulage safeguards, worker training and human performance issues.

He said it will be opened up for a 30-day comment period on or before Jan. 28 to allow mine health and safety professionals as well as the general public to offer input.

"I think it's a comprehensive and unprecedented take on attempting to end underground haulage fatalities and accidents – common sense ideas, some new training, new information, some practices for the company as well," he said.

Watts described the proposal as a "multi-pronged approach to correcting underground coal mining dangers and...put West Virginia's coal miners in a safer environment than what exists anywhere else in the world." He said no other state or federal law establishes the same level of protection for underground section haulage tasks than what is found in the Board's proposal.

"The Board is truly a pioneer in requiring the use of this new technology, which only recently matured enough to be commercially viable," he said, pointing out similar rules had stalled at the federal level. "The Board feels that the technology has finally advanced to a place where continuous mining machinery should have proximity devices on them. The proposal also includes many other safety improvements."

He said board members in December had heard final reports on several fatal mining incidents that involved the loss of life due to accidents involving underground machinery. Acting as statue allows and dictates, he said the board voted unanimously to begin drafting rules to address this situation and now has taken the next step "by unanimously agreeing to post the proposal for comment, also according to statute."

The proposed rule spells out a more comprehensive approach to underground haulage accidents by requiring:

* Proximity detection systems on all "newly purchased" place-change continuous miners within 6 months following the effective date of the rule, all rebuilt place-change miners within 12 months, and on all existing place-change continuous miners within 36 months

* Cameras or proximity detection systems on scoop cars and battery-powered section haulage equipment within 36 months

* The Office of Miners' Health Safety & Training would be obligated to visit each mine in the state and to host regional workshops to discuss the new requirements and disseminate information on Proximity devices and the use of cameras on underground equipment

* Individual machine operators are to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the equipment entrusted to them and others who may be working in the same area of a mine by performing equipment inspections, checking roadways and sounding alarms.

* A minimum of 100 square inches of reflective or highly visible clothing to be worn by all underground employees.

* The use of strobes lights, warning cones or extension rods at hazardous work sites

* To reduce instances of unnecessary equipment moves underground, makes the OMHST Director responsible for seeking expeditious approval of extended-cut mining plans with MSHA

* Restates a number of underground haulage safety provisions found in various rules currently in effect (section 13)

* Mine site safety meetings to review the provisions of the rule.

Watts said the Board acted "carefully and thoughtfully" on the proposal, and said it "will continue to work together to ensure the safety of our miners remains our No. 1 priority."

Once the public comment period starts, Watts said he'll be ready to "actively work to solicit comments from stakeholders in the industry so when the comment period ends, we'll have a solid understanding of how the industry views this, view implementation of the rule and their thoughts and ideas on how to make it better."