MSHA Issues Proximity Detection Final Rule

"Simply put, the proximity detection final rule will save lives and has the potential to dramatically improve the safety of mining operations," said Assistant Secretary Joe Main. "It already has the support of many in the mining industry."

The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a final rule Jan. 13 that will require operators of underground coal mines to equip their continuous mining machines with proximity detection systems, with the agency stating it will be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 15 and become effective 60 days later.

"Simply put, the proximity detection final rule will save lives and has the potential to dramatically improve the safety of mining operations," said Assistant Secretary Joe Main. "It already has the support of many in the mining industry. In fact, a number of coal companies installed proximity detection systems long before there was a legal obligation to do so."

The rule states that a proximity detection system consists of machine-mounted components and miner-wearable components worn by each miner on a working section, and it sets performance and maintenance requirements for these systems and requires training for personnel who install and maintain them.

To meet the standards set in the rule, a proximity system must:

  • Cause moving or repositioning continuous mining machines to stop before contacting a miner
  • Provide audible and visual warnings on the miner-wearable component and a visual warning on the machine before it stops
  • Provide a visual signal on the machine that shows the machine-mounted components are functioning properly
  • Prevent movement of the machine if any machine-mounted component is not functioning properly (except limited movement for repairs)
  • Prevent electrical interference that adversely affects the performance of other electrical systems in the mine
  • Be installed and maintained in proper operating condition by a trained person

Mine operators will have phase-in periods of 8 to 36 months to obtain MSHA approvals, modify continuous mining machines to meet the new requirements, and train miners. "The phase-in periods are based on the availability of four MSHA-approved proximity detection systems, the estimated number of continuous mining machines that would be rebuilt or replaced by new machines during the phase-in periods, and manufacturers' capacity to produce and install these systems," according to the agency's news release, which states about 425 continuous mining machines have been equipped with proximity detection systems thus far, "and MSHA believes the majority of these systems will meet the provisions of the final rule with only minor changes, such as adding warning signals. There are about 863 continuous mining machines in underground coal mines."

It credits Alliance Resource Partners, L.P., which operates 11 mining complexes in the Illinois Basin and Appalachia, as a pioneer in installing the technology on its continuous mining machines, and it also credits Alpha Natural Resources, Affinity Coal Co., and CONSOL Energy for the technology. "Alliance is appreciative that Joe Main of MSHA is visiting the Gibson North mine today to highlight the importance of the use of proximity detection systems in underground mining operations," said Joe Craft, president and CEO. "Safety is Alliance's very top priority, and our team is committed to serving as an industry leader in the use of safety technology. As part of this commitment, Alliance has been at the forefront of designing and installing proximity detection systems at all of its mining operations and believes that they save lives."

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