Research teams in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University will have the opportunity to conduct research related to the safety, training and health management of miners, thanks to awards made by the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health.

Despite the record of progress achieved in reducing fatal and non-fatal mining injuries in the United States, both the number and severity of these injuries remain unacceptable. A persistent area of concern in mine safety continues to be related to mining equipment. A team led by Vlad Kecojevic from the WVU Department of Mining Engineering will work to design and deploy an integrated safety system to help reduce equipment-related fatal and non-fatal injuries in surface mining operations.

The research team, which includes Bojan Cukic and Vinod Kulathumani of the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and Ashish Nimbarte of industrial and management system engineering, will work to design a large-scale sensor network system.

“The proposed system will include features such as existing proximity warning systems and non-invasive eye detection and tracking systems for driver fatigue,” said Kecojevic. “It will also include a vehicular motion profile, illumination on the site, critical intersections in the mine, reduced visibility due to factors such as dust and fog, speed of the vehicle and warning signals if maintenance of the equipment is not conducted after a certain number of miles and/or hours.

“As opposed to leaving individual sensing sub-systems disconnected, all components will be integrated into a common information management system, thus simplifying installation, maintenance, data retrieval and user interface design,” Kecojevic added. “This type of integrated system will also enable the data from multiple sensing sub-systems to be fused, thus facilitating more comprehensive hazard monitoring, risk analysis and long-term data analytics for risk management.”

Jim Dean, director of mining and industrial extension, will be part of two research teams that were awarded grants from the foundation. Dean will lead an effort to create an experiential training program that will address mobile equipment injuries and fatalities in the mining industry.

“According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, between 2000 and 2010 nearly 800 miners were injured and 16 were killed in accidents involving shuttle cars and scoops in underground coal mines,” Dean said. “Most of these accidents occurred because the equipment operator was not aware of the presence of personnel near the mine equipment.”

Machine-mounted cameras and proximity detection systems can improve the ability of equipment operators to know when individuals may be in harm’s way, but without proper training, Dean said, there may be a tendency for operators to rely too much on this technology, and neither represents a fail-safe system.

“An assessment of the technology currently in use, coupled with realistic experiential training for operators and apprentice miners, is needed to fully impart the dangers presented by mobile equipment, the limitations of any technological aids and best safety practices by everyone to reduce the number of accidents involving mobile equipment,” Dean said. Also working on the project are WVU mining extension agents Mark Gouzd and Joshua Caldwell.

Dean and Gary Winn, professor of industrial and management systems engineering, will partner with researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center on the establishment of the Mining Healthy Workplace Program. The proposed program will work to introduce a workplace health participatory program that can be introduced successfully to West Virginia’s mining community, which can produce health improvements in a cost-efficient manner.

“At a minimum, our project will revise the apprenticeship and recertification requirements for safety for West Virginia miners by introducing a more robust and integrated health-related curriculum for the apprentices,” Winn said.

“For more than 100 years, WVU has been training not only the next generation of mining engineers but also offering training and certification programs for miners already working in the industry,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College.

“Their safety is of our utmost concern. Research awards such as these from the Alpha Foundation allow us to continue and expand that important work. I would like to congratulate the members of our faculty and staff on earning this award and I look forward to the impact their work will have on the industry in the coming years.”

In January 2013, the foundation, which was established in April 2012 pursuant to a non-prosecution agreement between Alpha Natural Resources and the United States Attorney’s Office, issued a call for concept papers, which resulted in 160 submissions. Following an initial phase of review, a number of the concept papers were selected for development into full research proposals. Sixteen were then approved for funding by the Foundation’s board of directors.

“The foundation has been most pleased with the depth of research and innovation evident in the proposals and the potential impact on safety and health needs in the mining industry,” said Dr. Michael Karmis, president of the foundation.



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College

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