Alpha Foundation awards $10M to 15 schools, United Steelworkers for US mine safety research

The other winners are the Colorado School of Mines, Northeastern University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the universities of Kentucky, Utah, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Connecticut.

Virginia Tech will work on through-the-earth communication systems and a new risk-management approach to safety, while WVU will work on safety systems at surface mines and mobile equipment technology training.

Jim Dean, director of mining and industrial extension at WVU, said that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 800 underground coal miners were injured and 16 were killed in accidents involving shuttle cars and scoops. Most occurred because the operator was unaware someone was nearby.

Cameras and proximity detectors can help reduce accidents, Dean said, but without proper training, operators may have the tendency to rely too heavily on the technology.

“For more than 100 years, WVU has been training not only the next generation of mining engineers, but also offering training and certification programs for miners already working in the industry,” said Gene Cilento, dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “Their safety is of our utmost concern.”

Northeastern University will focus on whole-body vibration exposure and injury prevention at open-pit coal mines, while UC-Berkeley will focus on heart disease and lung cancer deaths linked to particulate matter and diesel exhaust.

The foundation aims to fill gaps and overcomer barriers to scientific research, not duplicate existing work. It was formed under a $210 million settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.