Over the past 40 years, tens of thousands of mine inspectors and mine safety professionals have passed through the doors of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, WV. Dedicated in 1976, the complex houses the world’s largest educational institution devoted solely to training in mine health and safety. It is one of just seven permanent federal academies in the U.S.
The week of Aug. 15-19, the Mine Safety and Health Administration commemorated the academy’s four decades of service with a series of demonstrations, tours and speeches. Its sprawling, 80-acre complex of buildings includes classrooms, mine machine and simulation laboratories, mine emergency operations equipment, a publication distribution center and a residence hall. The Technical Information Center and Library contains an extensive collection of research and study materials, including periodicals, books, archival material, maps, technical reports and more than 1,000 historical photos — some dating back more than a century.
The academy’s principal purpose is to educate and train MSHA personnel and mining professionals, exposing them to a variety of disciplines in nine different laboratories: roof control, ground control, mine emergency and mine rescue, ventilation, electrical, machinery, industrial hygiene, computer, and underground mine simulation. When MSHA hires mine inspectors, we put them through about 18 months of comprehensive training, most of it in Beckley.
Since 1992, a 48,000-square foot mine simulation laboratory has served mine rescue teams so that they can experience firsthand the conditions they would encounter during an actual rescue and recovery operation.
Over the years, I’ve visited the academy frequently for meetings, training, conferences and public regulatory hearings. Since I became assistant secretary, it has been like a second home to me. I’ve been privileged to attend numerous graduations for our new inspectors and, during the dark days following the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine, I joined victims’ family members who gathered there to learn about the investigation team’s progress following one of the worst coal mining disasters in decades.
The academy might not have been built were it not for the advocacy and support of one very special man – the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. We are forever indebted to the pivotal role he played in its construction and longevity.
Education and training are vital components in improving the health and safety of the nation’s miners. The National Mine Health and Safety Academy plays a critical role in our ability to carry out our mission. MSHA, miners across the nation and the mining industry owe a tremendous debt to the academy for its invaluable contributions over the past 40 years.
Joseph A. Main is the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.