Ihsan Berk Tulu, assistant professor of mining engineering, is improving safety in underground mines by developing mine-specific, geology-dependent pillar and standing support design tools. (WVU Photo)

New technology to improve underground mine safety in development by WVU engineers

Technology created by engineers at West Virginia University will improve safety in underground mines by reducing the likelihood of “fall of ground” related accidents, one of the leading causes of injuries in underground mines, which occurs when part of the roof or a pillar collapses.

Ihsan Berk Tulu, assistant professor of mining engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, will develop mine-specific, geology-dependent pillar and standing support design tools that will be immediately available to the mining industry thanks to a $450,000 award from the Alpha Foundation.

According to Tulu, despite progress in reducing ground control related fatalities and injuries in mines, coal miners are still at risk from roof collapses and falling debris while working underground.

A recent report by the Mine Health and Safety Administration revealed that fall of ground incidents still account for almost 30 percent of the occupational fatalities in underground coal mines, out of these ground control related fatal accidents, 25 percent of them were in longwall mines. For fatalities related to ground control, 80 percent of them have occurred in areas with roof support. This project aims to improve the safety by enhancing current ground control design tools, Tulu explained.

“The ultimate goal of this research is to improve the safety of mine workers in regional mining operations in Appalachia, the U.S. and around the world,” Tulu said. “Therefore, this research will serve WVU’s mission as a land-grand institution by improving the safety of West Virginia and the U.S. residents who are working in the underground coal mining industry.”

The grant from the Alpha Foundation will also be used to fund graduate students and purchase advanced geo-mechanical software.

Tulu will work alongside graduate research assistants Deniz Tuncay and Haochen Zhao on this project. Tuncay will develop the geology-dependent global loading model by using a mine scale modeling methodology. Zhao will use a small-scale modeling methodology and analyze a database of case histories to develop a local entry scale ground response model. Both of these simplified models would be later incorporated into the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health design software.

The Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health is a private foundation with the mission to improve mine safety and health through funding research and development projects at qualified academic institutions and other not-for-profit organizations.

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