FLATWOODS, W.Va. -- After months of discussions about "proximity detection" devices, members of a state board on Thursday reached a conclusion: They need to talk some more about whether to require West Virginia's mine operators to install the life-saving equipment.
For the fourth monthly meeting in a row, Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety members could not agree on an approach for a new rule to mandate the devices or otherwise take steps to curb crushing deaths and injuries in underground mines.
So, board members voted to send the matter to a subcommittee that would try to sort out various industry and labor proposals.
Terry Hudson, an industry representative to the board, said the move would allow the subcommittee to start with "a clean slate" to begin "tackling this problem."
Creation of the subcommittee -- set to meet Jan. 9 -- is the latest maneuver by the board, which renewed discussions of proximity devices after a Charleston Gazette story in August that detailed the state's inaction on the issue.
Mine safety experts say proximity detection systems could help prevent one of the most common types of mining accidents -- being crushed or pinned by mobile underground equipment -- by stopping mining machines and coal-haulage vehicles when they get too close to workers.
Nationwide between 1984 and 2010, 30 miners died and 200 were injured when they became crushed, pinned or struck underground by continuous-mining machines, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
On the federal level, MSHA has been working on two rules to require proximity-detection systems nationwide. One proposal, covering only continuous-mining machines, is stuck inside MSHA. The other, addressing all other mobile underground equipment, has been pending at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than two years.
Regulators and industry officials have touted the fact that some mine operators are installing proximity detection systems on their own. But only about 4 percent of mobile underground equipment in West Virginia mines has the devices, according to the most recent state survey, taken in August.