Coal mine safety

Dear Control Engineering: Aren’t there sensors and other safety devices that could make coal mining less hazardous?

06/22/2010


Dear Control Engineering: Aren’t there sensors and other safety devices that could make coal mining less hazardous?

While 2010 has been a difficult year with 27 mine-related fatalities so far, coal mining is not nearly as hazardous an occupation as it used to be. Prior to 1930, people were practically a consumable item with 2,000 and more fatalities a year. Once we got through WWII, deaths continued a downward trend and by 1950 they were typically below 500, and half that by 1970. Still, mines continue to be dangerous places, and it is difficult to imagine the turmoil people around Montcoal, WV, are experiencing as they await news of who may have perished below the ground.

Methane is frequently trapped in coal seams, and coal dust is highly explosive if airborne, so there are many potentially life-threatening elements. Technologies to measure these problems are common. There are devices to monitor oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. There are personnel locating devices that use GPS technology to indicate who is where. Some mines tie sensors together using Ethernet, just like any other potentially dangerous process manufacturing environment.

The problem is that such technologies have to be deployed and used properly. One report from the current Upper Big Branch mine rescue says that the mine owner had not put the equipment in the part of the mine that suffered the explosion. This is in spite of a 2006 federal law requiring its use. Miners have been known to bend safety rules to increase production. Regulations require that mines must be evacuated if methane concentrations exceed 1%. (It becomes explosive with concentrations as low as 5% and is especially dangerous around 9 to 10%.) Heavy equipment is supposed to shut down automatically if it reaches 1.5%, but such regulations have been ignored to maintain production levels. Coal dust can be even more explosive, but equipment usually uses water sprays to capture it.

As is often the case with industrial disasters, the main issues don’t relate to a lack of relevant technology as much as the way technology is (or isn’t) used, and how well people are trained. The mine owner in this case, Massey Energy, has been criticized for its record on safety operations. Such was also the case brought against BP in the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005. After the dust settles in West Virginia, there will be much to sift through.

Posted by Ask Control Engineering on April 10, 2010



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
World-class manufacturing: A recipe for success: Finding the right mix for a salad dressing line; 2015 Salary Survey: Manufacturing slump dims enthusiasm
2015 Top Plant: Phoenix Contact, Middletown, Pa.; 2015 Best Practices: Automation, Electrical Safety, Electrical Systems, Pneumatics, Material Handling, Mechanical Systems
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Getting ready for industrial IoT; Visualizing the (applied) automation continuum; Preventing VFD faults and failures; Using wireless for closed-loop applications
Migrating industrial networks; Tracking HMI advances; Making the right automation changes
Understanding transfer switch operation; Coordinating protective devices; Analyzing NEC 2014 changes; Cooling data centers

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.