WV mine safety program decades old, includes ‘flame safety lamps - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV mine safety program decades old, includes ‘flame safety lamps’

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A lot has changed since the 1970s, but it's apparently been that long since a major overhaul of West Virginia's state mining training procedures.

Joel Watts, administrator of the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety, said the current framework for training miners was built in the 1970s and needs to be revamped. The Board of Miner Training, Education and Certification, Watts said, is proposing a 1 percent earmark of the coal severance tax fund to rebuild the program.

"Although the current training and certification regimen works reasonably well for the industry and for mines, the board has identified steps that could be taken to strengthen it," Watts said. "The board does not endorse any additional mandatory training but does support creation of supplemental material to ensure that the time applied to training activities reflects current mining best practices, equipment, technology and operations."

A survey commissioned by the board found a desire for training on new laws and regulations, hazard recognition and identifying patterns of accidents.

"More hands on training was also suggested, using simulated mines or computer-based virtual reality," the report states.

Many respondents also wanted to see more use of Internet-based safety program enhancements.

"Most said that their training on equipment is up-to-date, but suggested that equipment that is no longer used such as flame safety lamps and FSRs should be dropped from training curricula," the report states.

Mine safety standards mandated by West Virginia code, the report states, should be the very minimum of safety protocol at the mine. Operators, in general, the report stated, go above and beyond.

"Mine operators can and often do augment basic training material and content with additional information," the report states. "Each mine operator and mine site may perform specific tasks somewhat differently, which requires mine-specific training. A few mine operators have invested in fairly extensive training facilities and curricula."

The agency recommends use of "Job Task Analysis," a federal Mine Safety and Health Administration process used to identify the critical job functions and best practices across various jobs. The program would focus on reviewing human error potential and assessing gaps in training and needs.

The board proposes that this is funded with 1 percent of coal tax severance over four years, resulting in about $1 million per year to update the safety practices.

"Training for the certifications was originally developed in the 1970s and has not had a comprehensive review and update since then," the report states.

Watts said much has changed since the current miner training programs were created.

"These programs were developed before I was born," Watts said. "We are looking at new technologies not only in coal mines, but so, too, in teaching, so we have to have the money as a state to develop these programs like we did in the 1970s."