CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety agreed Thursday to put out for public comment a proposed rule that would require proximity detection devices on continuous mining equipment.
But in the face of a lawsuit at the state Supreme Court, the board decided not to require those devices on other mining equipment.
The devices would function to stop machines moving too close to miners and to warn miners when they are too close to those moving machines. The technology is designed to keep miners from getting crushed by those mining machines.
The proposal, which should go out for public comment in the next several days, would require the proximity detection devices on all "newly purchased" place-change continuous miners within six months of the rule's passage, and all "rebuilt" place-change miners within 12 months of passage, according to a news release from the board.
But the proposed rule would allow coal operators to place either proximity devices or cameras on scoop cars and battery-powered haulage equipment and give them three years to do so.
The news release from the board called the proposal "unprecedented" and "comprehensive."
Joel Watts, administrator of the board, said the board's six members at the Thursday meeting unanimously agreed "to post the proposal for comment" for a 30-day period.
"The board's commitment to mine safety is reflected throughout the multipronged approach to correcting underground coal mining dangers and to put West Virginia's coal miners in a safer environment than what exists anywhere else in the world," Watts said in his news release.
Watts called the board's action "quick and decisive." But the lawsuit filed last month by the public-interest firm Mountain State Justice accuses the board, as well as the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, of ignoring dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries that could have been prevented by installing proximity devices previously.
Caitlin O'Dell -- whose husband, Steven, was killed in a mining accident in November 2012 -- is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She attended Thursday's meeting at the Charleston Civic Center, and said that she left disappointed, again.
"[Board members] continue to postpone rulemaking that would mandate proximity detection on all mobile mining equipment," O'Dell said after the meeting. "There is no time to waste on this issue. Lives are at stake on a daily basis. The board fails to recognize that delaying another day could result in another fatality."