Monumental Steps Taken Towards Mine Safety

Settlement from Upper Big Branch Disaster Funds Research Grants

coal miner

In April 2010, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia left 29 people dead and two others injured. This fatal explosion, caused by a combination of preventable factors, has been branded one of the low points in modern-day mining. However some positive progress can come from such a devastating event.

The Upper Big Branch disaster has acted as a catalyst to improve mine safety throughout the United States. The Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health recently announced that it has awarded $10 million in research grants to projects designed to improve mine safety, and will award another $38 million toward academic and nonprofit mine safety research in the future.

The Alpha Foundation was born out of a settlement agreement between the owners of Upper Big Branch mine and the U.S. Attorney's office. Alpha Natural Resources, the current mine owner, was required to pay in total about $209 million to the families of those involved in the disaster, penalties to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, safety enhancements to existing mines, and research towards mine safety.

Federal investigators have said that Upper Big branch employees were intimidated or retaliated against for reporting problems within the mine. In an effort to combat this, one of the grants was awarded to researchers with the United Steelworkers, and will fund a two-year study recognizing hazardous practices that prevent workers from coming forward and identifying unsafe or unhealthy conditions in mines.

Mining Engineers from West Virginia University, who are also receiving grants from the Alpha Foundation, plan to design a large-scale network of sensors to monitor and track large equipment in surface mines. They hope their research will reduce equipment-related fatalities and injuries. Other recipients of the Alpha grants will work to make sure that employees using mining technology are properly trained. University of Pittsburgh Alpha grant recipients will focus on worker health in underground coal mining.

While the researchers' areas of study are vast, their work to improve mine safety may all yield life-saving results.

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Source: “First mine safety funds doled out.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 1, 2013.