Among the many dangers in dark, cramped underground coal mines is that of being crushed by moving machinery. On average, slightly fewer than two miners a year are killed in such accidents. About 15, again on average, are injured.
Five years ago, West Virginia mine safety officials were urged to adopt a rule that could prevent at least some of the injuries and deaths. The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training recommended requiring proximity detection devices on some mining equipment. The detectors can shut down moving machines before they strike nearby human beings.
But the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety has not adopted the rule, in part because the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has not yet acted on the matter.
State board members were asked again this week to require the proximity detectors.
It is understandable that state officials want to know what the MSHA will do about the issue. The concern is that mining companies may spend money and time installing state-mandated equipment, only to be told by Uncle Sam to do something different.
This is a situation in which the coal industry seems to agree something can and should be done to avoid a certain type of accident. Though approaches other than proximity detectors have been discussed, there appears to be little industry opposition to them.
If the federal government does not act on the matter within a reasonable amount of time - say, three months - state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety members should adopt the detector requirement. Miners, who sometimes have to make critical decisions within seconds, should not have to wait years for the bureaucracy to grind out a safety rule that could save lives.