As a mining engineering professor whose research focus heavily involves mine safety, Dr. Kyle Perry cringes every time he reads about a mining-related fatality. Questions buzz through his mind: What happened? Was the equipment poorly maintained? Was the design wrong or the geology unaccounted for? Is anyone at fault? Was it a random event?
The questions are important because not every mining-related accident is the same. “Unfortunately, when most people see ‘mining fatality’ on the news, they recall past mining tragedies that receiving national attention; but some accidents are truly unforeseeable and not all accidents have easy explanations or should give the impression that mining in inherently unsafe,” says Dr. Perry.
This past fall, Dr. Kyle Perry, along with other co-investigators, received a $1.25M grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). While the goals of the grant cover two different areas of research, both are aimed at improving safety at surface and underground mines.
One aspect of the grant involves researching high wall stability and the effects of ground vibrations upon it—typically due to blasting. The team, led by Dr. Perry, plans to monitor high walls (any vertical face at a mine) for displacement and correlate it with ground vibrations that might have caused the movement. Aided by seismographs, blast records and a laser scanning able to create a point cloud of the wall, Dr. Perry will be able to create a model able to inform mining engineers about the vulnerability of their high walls relative to their blasting amplitude.
The other part of the grant is intended to investigate the benefit of LED lighting technology in underground coal mines. LED lights have the potential to give engineers a different picture of what they see compared to normal incandescent or halogen lighting. The team will incorporate a bank of LED lights onto roof bolting machines and determine if the different quality of light allows technicians to identify places where extra roof bolts are needed.
“Both parts of the grant are designed to increase the level of safety at underground and surface mines,” says Dr. Perry. “We hope our findings on high wall stability and LED lighting can prevent any unfortunate and unnecessary accidents.”
Although trained as a civil engineer at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Dr. Perry’s gravitation toward explosives engineering began when he observed the kind of work his brother-in-law, Braden Lusk, was doing in explosives engineering as a graduate student at Missouri-Rolla. He took fifteen credit hours at Missouri-Rolla and earned a minor in explosives engineering. Enthusiastic about blasting and facing a scant civil engineering job market, Dr. Perry followed Dr. Lusk to the University of Kentucky’s Department of Mining Engineering, where the latter had just accepted a faculty position. Three years later, Dr. Perry received his Ph.D. and was hired onto the mining engineering faculty. “I really enjoyed the research and getting involved in blasting related projects,” he explains. “I was able to teach an advanced blasting class while a graduate student and loved it. I also saw taking a faculty position as a way to interact with industry while also engaging in research.”
One of Dr. Perry’s responsibilities is to operate the rock mechanics lab and teach a course on rock mechanics—both formerly conducted by retired professor Kot Unrug. “Dr. Unrug is an amazing person,” Dr. Perry reflects. “I have taken trips with him and learned so many tips and tricks that would have taken me years to discover. He is an incredibly practical and knowledgeable person and my hope is to take his material and utilize newer learning methods and technologies to help students understand it.”
Mine safety is a serious concern and in only his second year on the mining engineering faculty, his work through the NIOSH grant offers hope that high walls and mine roofs will be safer for miners and their families. “Every mine is different, and I can’t throw a blanket over the whole U.S. and say what I’m doing will work for every single mine,” he admit, “ but there is a wide spectrum of things I can do and I’m glad to have the opportunity to do them.”