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Thumbs down: Safety agencies moving too slowly on 'detection' rule

Sep. 06, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

If there's equipment for protecting miners from a type of injury that sometimes proves fatal, why not use it?

For years, state and federal regulators have had before them a proposal requiring underground mine operators to install proximity detection systems that would shut off mining equipment when it is too close to workers rather than run the risk of crushing them. The most recent data says that 30 miners were killed and 220 were injured in a 26-year period in the type of accidents that could be prevented if the detection devices were in place.

But it's clear that neither West Virginia nor federal officials plan to move anytime soon on the plan, which was first proposed five years ago by a team from the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, according to reports by The Charleston Gazette.

The West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety this week delayed action on the proposal. Members said they want to find out more about the timeline for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to complete a nationwide rule on the matter.

But the MSHA already had delayed an "emergency" rule that was planned more than two years ago, and last week said it now intends to issue a regular rule, which will require months of further review before it can be implemented.

Officials have noted that some mining companies have moved ahead to install the devices voluntarily. That's a good step, but that represents only about a quarter of the continuous mining machines in operation across the country. State regulators now have no authority to require them except at a mine where a crushing death has occurred. That's too little and far too late.

Both federal and state agencies need to speed up approval of this proposed requirement before more miners are needlessly killed.

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