Safety talk of day at WV Symposium

TALKS at the West Virginia Coal Forum held March 1, centered on mine safety’s current and future status.

Donna Schmidt

According to presenter Steve Luzik of MSHA, who spoke on the agency’s approval process for equipment, communication technology was on everyone’s lips. “I think the focus of the session was on the communications side,” he told International Longwall News. “Most of the questions [asked of the panel] focused around the availability of two-way communication and tracking.”

Luzik, who serves as chief of the regulatory agency’s approval and certification center, estimated that more than 400 industry representatives were present to hear the information given at the forum, which was held in the North Hall of the Charleston Civic Center in West Virginia.

The annual forum that typically discusses the latest in energy technology was renamed “Mine Safety Emergency Rules Forum: A Discussion of West Virginia’s New Mine Safety Rules” in light of current events that have affected mine safety in West Virginia as well as all of the US.

Luzik noted that the number of proposals for communications-related technologies and products are pouring into the agency for review and potential approval – in fact, a recent estimation of 50 is already outdated. “We’re up to about 80 now, and we get about a half dozen every day,” he said. “From all over.”

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin gave the major presentation spanning several topics relating to his mine law legislative bill that itself focuses on three main arteries: the availability of extra self-contained self rescuers, communication devices for all miners and a new state hotline to report accidents (1-866-WV-SAFETY).

Manchin defended the speed with which his office submitted new legislation for mine safety equipment, for which an implementation date is pending. “If you don’t agree, I can respect that. But I hope you’ll respect my decision that I had to make – in a timely situation, with the whole world looking upon us, one disaster after another.

“I know the cost of machinery,” he added. “I know the selling cost of a ton of coal. But I don’t know the cost of a life, a human being – because they’re priceless.”

Other presenters at the forum discussed topics relating to the technology involved in respirators, communication equipment, training and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. US Senator Robert Byrd also spoke about federal policy relating to the industry’s future.

Luzik noted the steps Manchin and the state of West Virginia are taking are being taken into consideration by other states looking at their own mine safety programs. “I think this is going to be big – not only on the government/federal side, but also on the state side.”

The forum, which was also sponsored by the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, was dubbed an opportunity to “discuss the challenges, opportunities and options in regard to the new mine safety rules....what [they] mean and how they may be implemented...to make West Virginia’s mining communities the safest in the world.”

The state of West Virginia has attained the status of being on the forefront of mine safety, Manchin said, and he wants to stay there.

A full version of the mine safety legislation bill (SB-247) can be found at www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Text_HTML/2006_SESSIONS/RS/BILLS/SB247%20SUB1%20eng.htm.

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