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MSHA News Release No. 99-1222
Mine Safety and Health Administration - USDOL
Contact: Amy Louviere
Phone: 703-235-1452

Released Wednesday, December 22, 1999

MSHA, West Virginia Jointly Tackle Stockpile Problem

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the State of West Virginia are working together to address the high incidence of fatalities at mine stockpiles by proposing enhanced protective features on certain mobile equipment vehicles.

The proposal calls for all bulldozers operating on stockpiles to have fully enclosed cabs equipped with high-strength windows in a reinforced steel frame. The durability of the glass would help protect equipment operators in the event of a stockpile collapse.

"Stockpile accidents tend to occur at mines in just a handful of states," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health. "We are pleased that West Virginia is taking the lead to address this very serious safety problem."

Since 1980, 18 coal miners have lost their lives in accidents involving collapsed stockpiles. Eight of those deaths occurred at West Virginia coal mines.

A number of hazardous conditions could contribute to a stockpile collapse. When coal is drawn from the bottom of an overlying stockpile, a visible cone generally forms above the conveyer device, or feeder. The size of the cone will vary according to the size and density of coal compaction, height of the pile, moisture content, etc. Occasionally, a cone does not form properly, leaving a void space below. The weight and vibrations from the equipment can cause that void to collapse.

West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety & Training initially approached its federal counterpart for technical assistance last August. MSHA then located a glass manufacturer that produces high-strength glass and launched a series of experiments to test the product's durability.

In addition to installing glass capable of withstanding a pressure of at least 20 pounds per square inch with a safety factor of two, West Virginia will propose that each bulldozer's cab be equipped with two self-contained self-rescuers, a back-up communication system, a remote control device capable of stopping the flow of coal from the feeder and a means of providing emergency lighting to the mobile equipment operator.

"These additional safeguards will protect the miner while he waits to be rescued in the event of a collapse," said Ron Harris, director of West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety & Training. "They are just part of the solution, however. We must keep working to find ways to prevent these collapses from happening in the first place."
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