MSHA urged to broaden warning device rules
Read more in Coal Tattoo. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration should expand its proposed rule to require mine operators to equip mining machines with devices meant to protect workers from being run over or crushed by those machines, the safety director of the United Mine Workers said Thursday.
Dennis O'Dell said the rule to mandate "proximity detection systems" on continuous mining machines is "way overdue" and that the units "should have been in the mines many years ago."
During an MSHA public hearing in Charleston, O'Dell spoke following remarks from coal industry officials who complained the agency is moving far too quickly in writing its rule.
"If operators are really serious about protecting the work force, then the mining community needs to stop making excuses to put this off," O'Dell told a panel of MSHA officials taking public comments on the proposal.
Already, MSHA abandoned plans to require the devices as part of an immediately enforceable "emergency rule," and the agency has proposed an 18-month phase-in period in a draft rule issued in late August.
MSHA says that the devices are already available, and are being used on continuous mining machines in other countries, including South Africa.
The rule under consideration would require mine operators to install electronic motion detectors that would shut off remote-controlled mining machines when they get within 3 feet of miners.
O'Dell said MSHA also should require the devices on other underground equipment, such as shuttle cars and coal loaders. And he said the UMW wants MSHA to also expand the requirement to surface-mining equipment.
Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is moving too quickly.
Hamilton said mine operators and equipment makers need more time to act.
"It would appear that the timeline proposed is not sufficient," Hamilton said.
Brian Thompson, an official from Joy Manufacturing, said his company would have to retrofit 64 continuous mining machines a month to meet the deadlines set in the MSHA proposal.
Thompson said Joy doesn't have the facilities or staff for that, but O'Dell suggested the company could provide an "economic stimulus" by hiring more workers to get the job done.
Hamilton said the industry believes MSHA should focus on continuing educational and training programs to teach miners to avoid moving equipment.
Greg Wagner, MSHA's deputy assistant secretary for policy, said the agency moved toward a rule only when it became clear that those other strategies weren't working.
Between 1984 and 2010, 30 miners were killed and 220 were injured when they became crushed, pinned or were struck by underground mining machines, MSHA said in its rule-making proposal.
"There were two fatalities and four injuries in 2010 where a continuous mining machine pinned, crushed, or struck a miner," MSHA said. "In 2011, a continuous mining machine operator was fatally injured. The preliminary report of the accident states the operator was pinned by the machine."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.