Miner Miner Courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Miners are wearing new "micro-wireless" monitoring tags in 30 West Virginia mines in order to comply with new safety regulations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

The devices -- developed by Axcess International Inc., a manufacturer of wireless monitoring products, and Tunnel Radio of America Inc. -- are designed to track the location of individual miners in order to aid rescue operations in case of an accident. The tags transmit in the 315 to 433 MHz band, which Allan Griebenow, president and CEO of Axcess International, said is more robust than Wi-Fi transmitting at 2.4 GHz.

"The tag is connected directly to the side of the helmet, and it technically can be worn in the pocket or even provided around a lanyard as an ID," Griebenow said.

The safety rule, effective mid-year 2009, was prompted by the tragic Sago mine disaster in Upshur County, W. Va., on June 2, 2006. Twelve miners suffocated there after being trapped by an underground explosion. Investigators faulted the slow rescue effort, miscommunication -- family members of the killed miners were mistakenly told they were alive -- and first responders' inability to notify the trapped miners that a rescue attempt was under way.

In the wake of that tragedy, President George W. Bush signed The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, which amended the 1977 Mine Safety and Health Act to require that mine operators implement post-accident rescue plans and provide their miners with wireless tracking systems, among other improvements.

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Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor