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Western Kentucky Coal Mine Field Trip: May 4-5, 2017

May 8, 2017, 13:37 PM by User Not Found
An interdisciplinary trip organized by the UC ERC to tour a coal mine in Western Kentucky.

Overview of the Field Trip to a Western Kentucky Coal Mine

Author: Gordon Lee Gillespie

Professor Cynthia Betcher and Dr. Gordon Lee Gillespie led an interdisciplinary group of students and faculty members to River View Coal Mine, a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners, LP (photo below). This particular coal mine was selected by Randy Boyd, Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Inspector with MSHA District 10. A key reason for selecting this mine was its high safety rating and use of innovations to promote miner safety.


At the start of our visit to River View Coal Mine, Ken Ford—General Manager, provided an overview about the coal industry and the River View Coal operation. The mine has one supervisor to about every 15 miners. This ratio allows frequent assessments focused on miner safety and health by the supervisors. The management team uses multiple quality improvement processes to continuously improve miner safety. Mr. Ford was particularly proud to employ a registered nurse and certified nurse practitioner at each of two portals where the miners enter/return from underground. The nurses assisted to coordinate a recent and voluntary employee wellness program where they had 100% participation from all employees. 

While our group of eight participated in an underground tour of the coal mine operation, we learned of multiple innovative safety features which will be addressed by the students in their blogs. A common feature however in all underground coal mine operations is the need to continuously stabilize the ceiling. During our tour, we witnessed two coal miners operating equipment when the ceiling was being stabilized with support structures every few feet. In the above picture, you can see what appears to be metal pans affixed to the ceiling. This panning is held in place with rebar, bolting, and an expandable glue. The attention to safety underground was phenomenal.  

Ventilation for Underground Mining Operations

Author: Bingbing Wu

We visited the River View Coal Mine, which is an underground mining complex located near Morganfield in Union County, Kentucky on May 5th, 2017. Production began at River View in 2009 utilizing continuous mining units. After a brief company introduction and safety training, we started equipping ourselves with unique miner PPE. Besides safety glasses, steel toed shoes, coverall, high-visibility jacket and ankle reflective bands, we had additional safety equipment preparing for emergency: LED-lighted hard hats equipped location tracker and Self-Contained Self-Rescuer (SCSR) which is for emergency escape with supplied oxygen.


The first thing I noticed was their detailed ventilation plan hanging on the wall as required by Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Then we started the underground tour observing the mining operation. The auto miner is equipped with dust control measurements including wet spay and scrubber, together with the underground ventilation system which applies positive pressure at the operation site, the dust is effectively controlled at the source. Not only the visual part- we didn’t see any dust cloud while observing the operation, but also reflected on the personal dust monitor on the operators who were working onsite. One operator was observed for his dust exposure from the real time dust monitor; near the end of his shift, his daily total dust exposure dose was 26% of OEL. Next step the truck delivers the coal from the continuous miner equipment to the transfer belt, it is designed with the positive pressure inside and air filter continuously filtering the air around the driver. We got a chance to sit in the driver’s seat (pictured above). As it was mentioned by the manager, with the new technology of the camera system the driver was able to have a much clearer view of surrounding environment, additionally the reduction of the dust significantly improved visibility. 

Fatal Accident Alerts

Author: Nancy Ly

I researched and presented on coal mining fatalities for the River View Coal Mine. My objectives were to learn the epidemiology of coal mining fatalities, understand the risk associated with the mining industry, and identify developments made to improve safety and health of coal mine workers. Coal mining is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. The Federal Mine Safety and Health (1977) regulates safety and health of coal miners. Fatalities by worker location is 39% for underground miners compared to 61% for surface miners. The fatal hazards that coal miners could encounter include contact with objects and equipment, roof/rib fall accidents, and respiratory exposures to coal dust. I had in mind a risky workplace for the coal miners on my way to the site.

At the end of the visit, I felt thankful and I appreciated the hard work the miners have done to bring us electricity. I learned the organization of the coal mine facility including the roles and responsibilities of each person. In terms of fatalities, the Riverview Coal Mine has been free of reportable injuries and fatalities for the past 300 days. I noticed this sign on the employee bulletin board as I entered the administrative building. 


As an occupational medicine physician in training, I evaluate work-related injuries. Some of the coal miners have specific tasks that require reaching above the shoulder, bending and twisting the body; these movements could lead to musculoskeletal strains and sprains with chronic use (pictured above). This observation helps me to consider providing education as well as teaching self-exercises to relieve muscle fatigue in my future encounters with coal miners. The work site remains the perfect avenue to encourage a healthy lifestyle in the general population. I find it necessary at times to observe employee work activities if there is an unclear association between the exposure and disease. This helps both the employee and the employer to recognize and prevent future exposure. 

NIOSH Research

Author: Worrawit Nakpan

The mission of the NIOSH research group includes the elimination or mitigation of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses of mining workers. There are several NIOSH mining research foci that have been conducted including atmospheric monitoring, diesel exhaust, electrical safety, ergonomics, explosion prevention, hearing loss prevention, illumination, respiratory diseases, spontaneous combustion, and ventilation. To illustrate, a recent recommendation that has been urged in coal mines is for the “Development and evaluation of prototype kneepads for the low seam (42 inches or less) mining industry.” More than 6,000 coal miners have knee problems causing pain. The findings suggested that applying kneepads is sufficient to reduce the pressure at the knee, and the total forces, which could decrease the incidence of knee injuries. Another interesting research focus is the continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM). The CPDM is a portable monitoring device which functions as a warning system when coal miners are exposed to a high concentration of hazardous dust.  Based on NIOSH, pneumoconiosis or “black lung” was exponentially decreased since the CPDM was mandated to be used by the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The CPDM can collect respirable dust during the entire work shift.


After experiencing underground coal mining at the River View Coal company, it was beyond my expectation about operation and safety systems. The company was well-organized and had outstanding safety programs such as behavior-based safety and the real-time dust monitors. The company is using current technology recommended by NIOSH, so the CPDM has been used to monitor the coal dust for entire the work-shift. The mass concentration of the dust is collected and displayed as a cumulative percentage based on PEL TWA.  What’s more, proximity sensors were attached to each miner to prevent the mining equipment from working when the miners were too close to the machines. I am profoundly impressed by this instrument. Overall, this field trip provided me an opportunity to experience how industrial hygiene and safety principle can be utilized for extremely dangerous occupational hazards. 

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