MSHA Publishes Proposed Rule to Equip Coal Mine Machines with Protective Technology

Sept. 2, 2011
On Aug. 31, MSHA published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to require underground coal mines to equip continuous mining machines with proximity detection systems in order to protect miners from becoming crushed, pinned or struck by machinery.

From 1984 through 2010, 30 miners died and 220 were injured when they became crushed, pinned or struck by continuous mining machines. These fatalities and injuries could have been prevented by use of proximity detection systems, MSHA said. The systems can be programmed to send warning signals and stop machine movement when certain areas are breached.

"We know that the technology exists for proximity detection, some underground coal mine operators already are using it, and we know that it saves lives,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

The proposed rule would require underground coal mine operators to equip existing continuous mining machines with a proximity detection system within 18 months after a final rule is published. Newly manufactured continuous mining machines would be required to be equipped within 3 months of the publication date of a final rule.

Under the rule, the system must provide an audible or visible alarm when the machine is 5 feet or closer to a miner; must cause the machine to stop at least 3 feet away from the miner; prevent movement of the machine if the system is not functioning properly; and more. Some exceptions are made when continuous mining machines are used to cut coal or rock.

Public Citizen: Delayed Action Could Hurt Miners

MSHA published a proposed rule rather than issuing an emergency temporary standard in order to align with President Obama’s Executive Order on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, and to allow public participation prior to implementation.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, argued that this slower course of action could put workers in harm’s way. The organization called on the Obama administration to allow MSHA to issue an emergency measure to prevent workers from being crushed by mining machinery.

“With MSHA’s decision to forgo issuing the temporary standard, this safety rule will take years to develop. During the delay, many more mine workers will be killed and injured by mining machines,” said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. MSHA will hold public hearings on this proposed rule in Denver on Oct. 18; Charleston, W.Va., on Oct. 20; and in Washington, Pa., on Oct. 25. The comment period remains open until Nov. 14.

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