The canary in the coalmine has a digital chirp these days. West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training has approved the first tracking and communications systems designed to help rescuers track and communicate with trapped coal miners, reports the Associated Press.
A year and a half after the Sago Mine disaster killed 12 miners, Canada-based Varis Mine Technology Ltd. has received approval to use wireless communications and tracking devices in West Virginia's 177 underground coal mines.
The July 31 approval for these devices is the result of federal mine safety legislation passed a year ago that requires wireless communications and tracking in more than 600 underground coal mines across the country by 2009. But it's just the first step. Modification and approval of those plans is expected to take until October, and state officials hope to have equipment installed in every mine by the end of next year.
There is some concern, however, that states will move too fast, ordering systems that haven't been fully tested in order to meet the new regulations. MSHA verifies that the equipment is safe, not that it works.
"Will MSHA ultimately approve or accept what West Virginia is requiring mine operators to purchase and install?" said Chris Hamilton, senior vice president for the West Virginia Coal Association. "We'll do the best we can ... We will have a more reliable communication system in underground mines."