A new MSHA regulation requires underground coal mine operators to install proximity detection devices on continuous mining machines (CMMs). The agency has indicated it intends to require the technology on other underground mobile equipment in the future.

CMMs are giant coal-cutting machines that can strike, pin or crush miners when the units operate or are moved. Proximity detection devices can be programmed to send warning signals and shut down the machines automatically when miners get too close. The technology employs electronic sensors located on the machines, and miners wear devices the sensors are able to detect.

The agency said 35 miners have been fatally injured in mostly preventable CMM-related accidents since 1984. Further, approximately 238 others had experienced nonfatal injuries. MSHA estimated the rule would prevent nine deaths and approximately 49 injuries over the next 10 years.

“This is something whose time has arrived, both in terms of the technology and the need,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main. There are some 863 CMMs in U.S. underground coal mines today, and the agency said about half (425) already are in compliance with most of what the new rule requires. For these devices, only minor changes, such as adding warning signals, will be needed, according to the agency.

In the rule, published January 15 in the Federal Register, MSHA established a compliance phase-in schedule. CMMs manufactured after this coming March 16, when the rule goes into effect, must comply with the new regulation by November 16, 2015. CMMs manufactured and equipped with a proximity detection system on or before March 16 must meet requirements no later than September 16, 2016, while CMMs manufactured without such a system on or after March 16 must be compliant no later than March 16, 2018.

“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,” the agency said in a news release.

The final rule also establishes performance and maintenance requirements for these systems and requires training for persons performing installation and maintenance.

The new requirements do not cover other underground mobile equipment, such as loaders, scoops and shuttle cars. However, the agency has proposed a second rule to cover this machinery in what many believe will apply to both underground coal and metal/non-metal mines. Although MSHA had projected release of a proposed rule for this machinery in January, its proposal has not yet gone to the Office of Management and Budget for review. OMB took a year to complete its review of the CMM rule.

There were approximately 326 active underground coal mines using CMMs in 2013. MSHA estimated the annualized compliance cost for all these operators would be $4.7 million. To draw attention to the regulation, on January 13, Main visited Alliance Resource Partners’ Gibson North Mine in Indiana. MSHA described Alliance as a “pioneer” in installing proximity detection devices. The agency also recognized the efforts of Alpha Natural Resources, Affinity Mining Co. and CONSOL Energy.