No participating core and specialty programs

Industry, academia, and other government agencies adopt workplace solutions and recommended practices to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among mining workers.

NOTE: Lines in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

Health Outcome Research Focus Worker population Research Type
A Musculoskeletal disorders Improved identification and remediation of musculoskeletal disorder risk factors at mining facilities. Metal/non-metal; stone, sand and gravel Intervention
B Musculoskeletal disorders Develop and evaluate methods to monitor worker exposures to MSD risk factors. Metal/non-metal; coal; stone, sand and gravel Basic/etiologic
C Musculoskeletal disorders Conduct targeted research to ascertain biomechanical risks associated with high-risk mining tasks. Metal/non-metal; coal; stone, sand and gravel Basic/etiologic
D Musculoskeletal disorders Prescription drug (incl. opioids), illicit drug, and substance use/misuse Metal/non-metal; coal; stone, sand and gravel Surveillance research


Activity Goal 4.4.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand the relationship between exposures and musculoskeletal disorders among mining workers.

Activity Goal 4.4.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to reduce musculoskeletal disorders among mining workers.

Activity Goal 4.4.3 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective interventions to reduce the musculoskeletal disorders risk factors associated with common mining activities.

Activity Goal 4.4.4 (Surveillance Research): Conduct surveillance research to develop new approaches to collecting data on use of opioids, illicit drugs, and other substances and assessing associations with musculoskeletal injuries among mining workers.


Nearly a third (29%) of all nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration in a recent 5-year span were MSDs [Weston et al., 2016]. The median number of days lost (sum of days lost from work and number of days with restricted work activity) was 21 for all reported MSD cases. Older workers, and those with more mining experience, showed more days lost from work as compared to their younger, or less experienced, counterparts who showed a higher frequency of injury. Further, having a past MSD places a worker at a higher risk for developing a future injury, and re-injury rates can be especially high in some jobs, leading to the loss of a worker from his or her specific occupation. In an analysis of annual costs, musculoskeletal disorders had a direct cost (medical costs plus indemnity) of $1.5 billion. The indirect costs (lost wages, fringe benefit losses, home production losses, and training, hiring, and disruption costs) amounted to an additional $1.1 billion [Bhattacharya, 2014]. In addition to financial costs to employers, MSDs affect the quality of life of workers; limiting their physical capabilities, vitality, and even negatively impacting their mental health.

Prescription opioids may be both a personal risk factor for work-related injury and a consequence of workplace exposures [Kowalski-McGraw et al., 2017]. A recent analysis of workers’ compensation claims from 27 states reported that workers employed in mining and construction industries were more likely that workers in other industries to receive opioids for pain [Thumula and Liu 2018]. In a study of workplace opioid overdose deaths between 2011 and 2016, the fatality rate in the mining industry (2.6 per 1,000,000 FTEs) was second only to transportation and warehousing [Tiesman et al 2019].


Intervention and Translational research is needed to ensure mine workers are equipped with the requisite knowledge to identify and appropriately remediate MSD risk factors. Although MSDs are one of the biggest contributors to incidents and lost days in mining, most mines do not have trained ergonomists or even safety professionals with ergonomics training. For this reason, it is important to develop tools and prevention approaches that can be used by persons with a range of backgrounds. Understanding the needs of the mining industry with respect to the types of tools or techniques that will be most effective for identifying and mitigating musculoskeletal disorder risk is critical to ensuring that research findings are appropriately transferred to practice. Basic/etiologic research is needed to develop and evaluate direct-reading equipment to provide detailed exposure information while workers perform their actual work tasks. Mining presents various challenges to direct measurement, including adverse environmental conditions, the need for rugged instrumentation, and permissibility limitations for underground use. Advancing our ability to directly measure exposure will provide a more accurate representation of mine worker exposures and provide mining companies with better metrics for injury risks. Basic/etiologic research is also needed to more quantitatively and comprehensively describe the biomechanics of high-risk mining tasks. Such studies will allow us to better understand the frequency, duration, and magnitude of these exposures. The exposure data can also be used to help identify jobs, tools, or tasks for intervention by focusing research on the specific issues posing highest risk.

Surveillance research is needed to attain a more nuanced understanding of the connection between MSD injuries and prescription drug (incl. opioids), illicit drug, and substance use/misuse, as well as effective intervention strategies.

Bhattacharya A [2014] Costs of occupational musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the United States. Int J Ind Ergon 44(3):448-454.

Kowalski-McGraw M, Green-McKenzie J, Pandalai SP, Schulte PA [2017]. Characterizing the interrelationships of prescription opioid and benzodiazepine drugs with worker health and workplace hazards.  J Occup Environ Med  59(11):1114-1126.

Thumula V, Liu T [2018]. Correlates of opioid dispensing.  Report No. WC-18-48.  Cambridge, MA: Workers Compensation Research Institute.

Tiesman HM, Konda S, Cimineri L, Castillo DN [2019]. Drug overdose deaths at work, 2011-2016. Inj Prev [Epub ahead of print]

Weston E, Nasarwanji MF, Pollard JP [2016]. Identification of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in mining. J Saf Health Environ Res 12(1): 274-283.

Note: Goal 4.4 was revised in October 2019 to add Row D and activity goal 4.4.4.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018