West Virginia mining operations must install new safety systems

Coal and metal mining involve dangerous work around heavy machinery. The Mine Safety and Health Administration Accident and Injury database tracks reports of mining accidents and injuries.

A 2010 survey by researchers working for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health looked at the most common accidents for surface and underground activities. The top five of both included handling materials, slip and falls, machinery and powered haulage. Underground work included the additional danger of roof collapses. Hand tool-related accidents were more common in surface work.

Handling materials accounted for about a third of all injuries. This included overexertion and often involved a back injury.

Controlling powerful machinery and vehicles is a challenge in all mines, but particularly coal mining operations. Machinery and powered haulage accidents when combined accounted for 23 percent to 26 percent of coal mining injuries.

From the period of 2003 to 2007 that the researchers reviewed, West Virginia had the highest number of underground mining injuries of any state in the country. Almost 25 percent of injuries, although the incidence rate was lower than some other states when compared with hours worked.

New safety rules

With this background, the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety along with the United Mine Workers of America recently reached an agreement about new safety regulations. West Virginia companies will need to install proximity detection systems on all continuous mining machines. New safety training is also included in the rules.

Companies will have until July 1, 2017 to equip machines already in service with proximity detection systems. Machinery put into service after January 1, 2015 or rebuilt after July 1, 2015 will have to have the systems installed.

Proximity detection systems detect and automatically shut down a piece of machinery when a person gets too close. These systems can detect the presence of miners in hazardous areas and prevent fatalities when these workers are required to work next to remote-controlled continuous mining machines.

Safety advocates applaud the new rules, even though the implementation time frame stretches out over several years. Workers injured in the interim could seek compensation for injuries they sustain.

If you or a loved one is injured in a mining accident, life can change in an instant and in the initial shock you may not know what steps to take. It is important to contact an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney who can advise you going forward. Compensation may be available for medical bills, lost wages, as well as your pain and suffering.