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Mining Project: Reducing Silica and other Respirable Hazards in the Industrial Minerals and Metal/Nonmetal Mining Industries

Principal Investigator
  • Justin Patts, NIOSH OMSHR, 412-386-6655
Start Date10/1/2014

To develop control interventions to reduce occupational exposure to silica and other respirable dusts in metal/nonmetal mines and mills.

Topic Areas

Research Summary

This project has five research aims, as follows:

  1. Optimize pressurization/filtration systems for control rooms and operator compartments to reduce silica exposures to miners working in these types of enclosures.
  2. Use Helmet-CAM assessment technology on mobile workers to identify high respirable dust exposure job duties and tasks, then develop engineering controls and behavioral interventions to reduce these exposures.
  3. Identify, evaluate, and improve the effectiveness of engineering control technologies and interventions currently being used to reduce respirable dust levels at bagging operations, and concurrently evaluate the workplace and workers’ naturalistic decisionmaking in relation to the bagging process and determine the impact this has on their exposures.
  4. Determine effective control techniques and interventions to reduce silica exposures of miners while performing the thermalling process in dimensional stone operations.
  5. Determine a simplified and accurate correction tool for various light-scattering nephelometers/instruments to more closely represent compliance dust sampling in the metal/nonmetal industry using Helmet-CAM technology.

Occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica are associated with the development of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and airway diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. MSHA’s compliance sampling results indicate that overexposure to respirable silica dust continues to occur at high rates for select occupations in both underground and surface mining operations, including mobile workers, bagging operators, and stone polishers.

This project will develop, implement, and evaluate engineering controls to minimize respirable dust exposures at targeted job classifications. In order to develop feasible and successful engineering control technologies, OMSHR will perform the following tasks: (1) Conceptualize, design, and fabricate dust control systems; (2) When appropriate, laboratory test the dust control systems at OMSHR laboratory facilities over a wide range of representative operating controls and parameters that closely represent real mining conditions; (3) Take the optimized laboratory design into the field to perform real-world evaluations of these interventions.

OMSHR’s strong working relationship with metal/nonmetal mining industrial associations, as well as with individual companies, has helped solve other mineral industry dust problems in the past and has led to wide-scale industry adoption of developed technologies. Successful completion of this research as well as adoption of the developed engineering controls by industry will lower dust levels at occupations with high rates of overexposures. This will in turn reduce the incidence of silicosis and other respirable diseases in the metal/nonmetal mining industry.