The future of mine safety training

[From WSAZ-TV in West Virginia; the story features a 3 minute video]


 Apr 7, 2010

The Future of Mine Safety Training

Days after one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history, one group is hoping to change the way coal miners get their safety training.

Brad Myers

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ-TV) — Just days after 25 miners died in an apparent mine explosion in West Virginia, the push is already on to take safety training for miners to the next level.

“One of the tragedies of having a disaster of this sort is to see the human suffering,” West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller said. “But part of what is good that comes out of it is that you are driven to look for what more needs to be done to make sure we cut down on the possibility of this happening again.”

That’s why Wednesday, Senator Rockefeller met with MSHA officials, a former miner and others at Marshall University to see what could be the future of mine safety training.

“The basic fact of it is the technology,” Project director, Dr. Tony Szwilski said. “They’re taking advantage of it and turning it into a resource to keep miners safe.”

While it looks much like a video game, this virtual world will allow miners to train in real-world situations, and without them ever having to step foot underground.

“This virtual environment supplements that. [T]here is tremendous potential for a lot of this technology to replace more and more traditional training,” Dr. Szwilski said.

Even a former miner who is now a teacher says he believes this new technology will be a big boost to safety training.

“We think this technology is the future of safety training,” Randy Massey said. “The importance… you can’t state. Because for miners, it is all about education.”

It’s all made possible with state-of-the-art technology that includes a motion-capturing room and a high definition monitor nearly worth $500,000 and comes with a definition that’s four times better than regular monitors. With the help of 3D technology, miners will feel like they are really in a different environment.

“With tools like virtual reality, you can give them the sense of what its like to be underground and taking part in jobs and tasks,” Massey said. “That’s what were about. Safety and giving somebody the knowledge to do the right thing.”

The technology is still likely a few years away from actual use, but officials say they’re sure it will help save lives.

“There are tremendous opportunities there to improve mining safety,” Dr. Szwilski said. “I would like to think we are making a great contribution to that.” 


[From West Virginia Broadcasting; the story features a 3 minute mp3]

Rockefeller visits Marshall virtual mine

By Clark Davis
April 7  2010


Senator Jay Rockefeller visited the Visualization Lab at Marshall University yesterday. Located in the engineering building on the campus the virtual reality simulation was built with grants made available to the university. The lab features a large screen showing an avatar, or representation of a miner. He can walk through the mine and deal with any challenges put before him

The system uses several different virtual reality programs including the online service Second Life. Operators of the lab hope that in the near future they can use these systems to create a training program for miners and rescue teams that would be available on the Mining Safety and Health Administration Web site. Rockefeller says the technology is what’s next.

“It’s the first step, they’re laying the ground work in a highly sophisticated technology, virtual where you know you’re actually in the mine, that’s what they’re going to in the next 1-2 maybe 2 ½ years, they’re going to achieve that,” Rockefeller said.


The Visualization Lab at Marshall University hopes to have the first wave of virtual training available on the MSHA site in the next few months.

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