Mine emergency rescue personnel must be ready to respond at a moment’s notice to find and rescue fellow miners in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. I truly appreciate how much preparation goes into response and recovery, because I’ve been a part of such situations. And that’s why I believe so strongly in investing in training and technology that can protect both rescue personnel and miners.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of Alpha Natural Resources’ Running Right Leadership Academy in Julian, W.Va. The new mine safety education and training center is a state-of-the-art skills and mine emergency facility that will be used to train miners, mine managers, mine rescue teams and others.
The training center was developed by Alpha as part of the December 2011 non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia and the Department of Justice following Alpha’s purchase of Massey Energy mines. One of those mines was Upper Big Branch, the site of the April 2010 explosion that claimed 29 miners’ lives.
Credit must go to the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s office for their foresight in reaching this agreement with Alpha.
The facility includes classroom space for up to 300 people; a mine lab with 96,000 square feet of space where mine situations and conditions can be simulated; a virtual reality lab with simulators to provide training on a continuous mining machine, roof bolter, scoop and haul truck; multiple labs for electrical, maintenance and welding training; facilities and equipment for supervisory leadership skills training; and a command center for mine rescue and emergency preparedness training.
During opening day, Alpha also showcased the results of research and development undertaken since the agreement was signed. I had the chance to observe a new system for continuous atmospheric monitoring of mine gases and air to detect problems that can lead to mine fires and explosions, an advanced cascading oxygen system for miners to use during evacuation, a mine refuge escape device, and a meter for testing the explosiveness of coal dust. A proximity device installed on a continuous mining machine to protect miners from crushing injuries also was on display.
Collectively, these training opportunities and advanced technologies will enhance safety and health in our nation’s mines and, ultimately, save miners lives.
To view more photos, visit the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s website.
Joseph Main is the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.