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College class to aid coal safety

Beginning next month, Allison Sharp will pore through old coal mining accident reports.

The West Virginia Wesleyan student is one of about 20 students the college is hoping will sign up for a course researching mine safety and analyzing accident reports. The results of the one-hour credit class, which will start March 2, will be sent by May to the governor’s team investigating the Sago mine accident.

Wesleyan is one of five colleges and universities throughout the state working on related projects, said Tom Hunter, a spokesman with the governor’s office. The students will be performing tasks that typical investigations don’t always include.

Sharp said she didn’t register to weigh down her already loaded 17-hour class schedule, or for any attention that could come along with such a project. Instead, she wants to find out more about what could have saved her uncle, Alva Martin Bennett. Bennett was one of 12 miners killed in the blast at Sago last month.

“I know it’s going to be hard and a lot of work,” she said. “But I talked to my aunt and we thought it would be a good idea and we could get a little more information.”

The class will investigate patterns in past accidents and make recommendations for reform that, with any luck, investigators will review.

The main task is to provide research about Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations, not to simply look at the Sago accident.

The course will also be an excellent learning and service tool for students, said Robert Rupp, a professor of history at Wesleyan. He and communications professor Kathleen Long will lead the class.

“This is a unique opportunity for student learning on our campus as it combines academic study with service and an opportunity to be part of a project that will make an immediate difference,” Long said.

Marshall students are working on creating databases on mine accidents. Tony Szwilski, director of Marshall’s Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences, said part of the schools’ work would be to review the general information now available to safety regulators and find ways to improve access to information on mine safety and health.

West Virginia University students will be looking at the ways hearings on the mine accidents could be done differently.

The University of Charleston will look at technical implementation of safety equipment and Wheeling Jesuit will examine equipment that could be effective in future accidents.

Sharp, who said she’s the only student in her school affected by the Sago accident, said she’s pleased so many are helping out.

To contact staff writer Anna L. Mallory, use e-mail or call 348-5163.


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