Located on Industrial Park Road near Interstate 70 exit 11 at Dallas Pike is the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Approval and Certification Center.
David C. Chirdon, supervisory electrical engineer at the center, said the facility is responsible for approving all equipment intended for use in gassy areas of all underground mines in the country — including mine communication and tracking devices, which are the focus of West Virginia and federal mine safety officials.
The center, opened in 1978, has 84 employees working in five buildings. Included among the buildings are a diesel explosion lab and an electrical equipment explosion lab.
Chirdon said the diesel explosion lab examines potential explosive issues pertaining to diesel engines while the electrical equipment explosion lab examines similar issues with electrical equipment.
“We evaluate explosion-proof enclosures which are used to enclose wires, controls, switches and other potential spark-producing elements to ensure they do not ignite an explosion,” Chirdon said.
According to Chirdon, the center also has a quality assurance department.
“We send people out into the field to make sure approved products continue to be built exactly the way they were approved,” he said. “Once a product has been approved by us, it cannot be modified without MSHA’s approval.”
Personal wireless two-way communications and tracking devices mandated by the state of West Virginia and federal legislation, but not yet implemented, fall under the Approval and Certification Center’s realm of responsibility.
Chirdon explained, in the event of an emergency, personal two-way communication devices will permit trapped miners to communicate with people on the surface and tracking devices will make it possible for rescuers to locate miners who are underground.
“In some cases, a single personal communicator may perform both functions,” he said.
Chirdon said his agency is currently testing 43 communications and tracking products to see if they comply with MSHA approval requirements. MSHA requires most communications and tracking products to be “intrinsically safe.”
“To be intrinsically safe, a product cannot create enough energy to ignite methane gas,” he said.
In July, the state of West Virginia rejected all communication/tracking plans submitted by 202 coal operators.
None of the plans were connected to the Approval and Certification Center, Chirdon said.
Chirdon said the proposals were rejected because of issues with their operational capabilities.
“West Virginia can accept a system plan even if it is not yet approved by MSHA as long as there is an application for MSHA approval,” he said.
Photo by Fred Connors
Testing a wireless communication system that may be in the hands of every coal miner in the country are Jay Prebeg, an electrical engineer at the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Approval and Certification Center in Triadelphia, and Mark Rose, president of Tunnel Radio Of America, a Corvallis, Ore.-based manufacturer of underground communication devices.