The rule, which takes effect March 16, will be phased in over eight to 36 months to provide operators an opportunity to obtain MSHA approvals, modify continuous miners to be compliant and complete required miner training.

The phase-in periods are based on the availability of the four currently MSHA-approved proximity detection systems, the estimated number of continuous mining machines that must be rebuilt or replaced by new machines during the phase-in periods, and manufacturers’ capacity to produce and install these systems.

To meet the standards set in the rule, a proximity system must:

  • Cause moving or repositioning continuous mining machines to stop before contacting a miner;
  • Provide audible and visual warnings on the miner-wearable component and a visual warning on the machine before it stops;
  • Provide a visual signal on the machine that shows the machine-mounted components are functioning properly;
  • Prevent movement of the machine if any machine-mounted component is not functioning properly (except limited movement for repairs);
  • Prevent electrical interference that adversely affects the performance of other electrical systems in the mine; and
  • Be installed and maintained in proper operating condition by a trained person.

The currently approved proximity units include Strata Mining Products’ HazardAvert system, Nautilus International’s Coal-Buddy system, the Matrix Design Group M3-1000/Joy Global SmartZone Gen 1 and the Matrix Design Group Intellizone/Joy Global SmartZone Gen 2.

According to historical federal data, there have been 35 deaths where miners have been pinned, crushed or struck by continuous mining machines in underground coal mines since 1984. MSHA projects that the rule will prevent 49 injuries and nine deaths over the next 10 years.

Based on manufacturer information, nearly half of the continuous mining machines in operation — 425 of approximately 863 — are already equipped with proximity detection systems. Most will meet the provisions of the final rule with only minor system changes, such as adding warning signals.

A copy of the final rule, which was published in the Federal Register on January 15, can be viewed in its entirety here.