Mining

Occupational Robotics Research, Prevention through Design, and Translation Research.

Industry, academia, other government agencies, and standard setting bodies adopt workplace solutions to reduce machine-related injuries among mining workers.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population Research Type
A Fatal and non-fatal injuries Striking incidents in confined spaces Underground mines (esp. coal) Intervention
B Fatal and non-fatal injuries Collision avoidance, human interaction, automation Surface mines (esp. metal/non-metal) Intervention
C Fatal and non-fatal injuries Conveyance system maintenance Stone, sand and gravel mines Intervention
D Fatal and non-fatal injuries Use of automation, robotics and emerging technologies Surface and underground mines Basic/etiologic

Surveillance research

Activity Goal 6.6.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand the relationship between automation, robotics and other emerging technologies and injuries among mining workers.
Activity Goal 6.6.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to reduce machine-related injuries among mining workers.
Activity Goal 6.6.3 (Surveillance Research): Conduct surveillance research to develop new methods to identify automation and robot-related injuries among mining workers.

Burden

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration Accident/Injury/Illness database, a total of 871 fatalities occurred in mining from 2000–2015 [MSHA 2017a]. Of this total, 48% (419) were related to machinery or powered haulage, with striking and pinning the most common cause of death. Other causes of fatalities included entanglements with conveyor systems (especially for tasks associated with machine maintenance, repair, or cleanup), as well as entanglements and falls from heights during equipment maintenance.

The mining sector is undergoing a major change as mining companies are looking to gain a competitive advantage using automation, robotics, and other “smart mine” technologies. The resulting complex software-based mining systems can eliminate or reduce some risks associated with traditional mining systems, but potentially introduce new risks and increase some existing risks. Accidents involving mobile autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles have occurred that include an autonomous haul truck colliding with a water truck and a grader, and a blast hole autonomous drill rig reversing direction and colliding with a stationary blast hold drill rig while in remote control. These safety issues will increase because the smart mining market is anticipated to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14.5%, and create $13 billion in revenues [Future Market Insights 2017].

Need

There is need to conduct research on machinery and powered haulage safety. There exist opportunities to advance development of technologies and sensors to further reduce mine worker exposure to hazardous conditions using robotics and automation of processes and equipment in mining. Research into how sensor technologies could be used to eliminate fatal injuries resulting from unwanted events between machines/equipment and personnel as well as eliminate exposure-related health issues. Investigating the human system integration elements of capabilities/limitations and administrative/behavioral considerations associated with their implementation for automation remains a critical need of the mining industry.

Industry, academia, and other government agencies adopt design procedures and workplace solutions to reduce ground control-related injuries among mining workers.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population Research Type
A Fatal and non-fatal injuries Striking injuries from roof/back and rib failures Underground (metal/non-metal, coal, stone) Intervention
B Fatal and non-fatal injuries Entrapment/massive support failure Underground (metal/non-metal, coal, stone) Intervention
C Fatal and non-fatal injuries Failure of gas well casing Underground coal mines, rig workers at oil and gas wells Intervention
D Fatal and non-fatal injuries Striking injuries from high wall failures Surface (metal non-metal, coal, stone) Intervention

Activity Goal 6.7.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to reduce ground control-related injuries among mining workers.

Burden

From 2000–2015 there were 125 ground control related fatalities. Of those 125 fatalities, there were 89 underground and 11 surface coal fatalities, and 20 underground and 5 surface metal/non-metal fatalities, respectively [MSHA 2017b]. Although the total number of mines, miners, fatalities, and injuries has been on a downward trend in the recent past, the near misses, injuries, and fatalities associated with and attributable to ground control failures are distributed amongst the following failure types: rib falls, roof falls, massive collapses, burst, bumps, back failures, dynamic failures, skin failures, highwall failures, slope failures, pillar failures, rock outbursts, insufficient barrier pillars, insufficient standing support, and intrinsic support.

Need

To address the ground control related fatalities and injuries, intervention research is needed. There are several areas where an enhanced understanding of the physics, causal factors, and effects of various activities, underground designs, and conditions utilizing “state of art” assessment techniques are needed. One of the largest knowledge gaps is the physical properties of the strata surrounding the mine opening that contributes significantly to the stability of the openings and need for additional support. Although significant advancements in the understanding of bursts have been made, investigations of underlying factors and trigger events leading to bursts have yet to be conducted. The most current techniques of laboratory testing, field instrumentation, and field observations provide improved input parameters and develop improved expected outcomes. Enhanced numerical modeling and statistical analysis techniques provide for expanding the empirical dataset and improving methods, best practices, and risk levels. Previous projects conducted by NIOSH have investigated these problems/gaps through past research methods, and future projects will continue to improve miner safety through refined models and more comprehensive risk assessments. The new information combined with the historical research conducted by NIOSH and the U.S. Bureau of Mines provide the best opportunity to eliminate mining injuries and fatalities related to ground control failures.

Industry, academia, and other government agencies adopt design procedures and workplace solutions to reduce traumatic injuries associated with fires and explosions among mining workers.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker population Research Type
A Fatal and non-fatal injuries Technology to improve successful mine worker self-escape Underground coal and metal/non-metal Intervention
B Fatal and non-fatal injuries Refuge alternatives and sensor systems Underground coal and metal/non-metal mines Intervention
C Fatal and non-fatal injuries Ventilation to limit/control methane levels Underground coal and gassy non-coal mines Intervention
D Fatal and non-fatal injuries Explosion propagation Underground coal mines Intervention

Activity Goal 6.8.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to reduce traumatic injuries associated with fires and explosions among mining workers.

Burden

Since 2000, 64 U.S. mine workers have been killed and 10 injured as a result of fires or explosions in underground workings [MSHA 2017c]. A rise in the number of injuries and fatalities since 2000 has prompted concerns into the causes and preventability of these accidents. These events may affect every underground worker in the mine, necessitating their rapid self-escape. In direct response to deficiencies in coal miner readiness to self-escape revealed during the 2006 mine disasters, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act), which strengthened already existing safety and health training requirements (30 CFR, Parts 46 and 48) and introduced new measures aimed at improving emergency preparedness and response in underground coal mines. This legislation resulted in a strong and steady demand for improved self-escape training methods and materials. The National Academy of Sciences compiled a comprehensive report that identifies a compelling set of recommendations for improving the effectiveness of self-escape from underground coal mines [NAS 2013]. When miners are unable to escape a mine following a disaster, refuge alternatives (RAs) become a critical survival tool by providing breathable air, water, food, and supplies. Although RAs have been required in underground coal mines for nearly 10 years, knowledge gaps exist in integrating RAs into mining environments.

Need

Major contributors to the scale of fires and explosions are coal dust and methane. All underground coal mine surfaces are required to be rock dusted, but no standard protocol exists by which inerting performance of a rock dust can be systematically evaluated. Effective ventilation is critical to controlling the large amounts of methane gas liberated during mining, where specific areas of concern include the bleeders and the longwall tailgate corner. Mine monitoring remains one of the most important means to safeguard the health and safety of the mineworker; yet sensors must be properly deployed to maintain the effectiveness of a monitoring system and the utility of the information it provides. Sensor deployment strategies must be developed and evaluated using performance-based metrics to afford the greatest effectiveness in early detection of a combustion incident.

While some significant progress has been made for self-escape, the industry is still lacking evidence-based data relating to the effectiveness of emergency response and self-escape training strategies. Field activities are needed to characterize the mine emergency escape system and determine the current state of self-escape competency training and assessment. Based on the results of this work, interventions to increase mine escape competencies can be improved and/or developed and assessed.

Knowledge gaps exist related to understanding heat and humidity accumulations inside an occupied RA. One such gap is the application of air delivery/conditioning systems to maintain life sustaining environments especially in deep and hot mines. Another is the use of purging mechanisms to eliminate contaminants. Communications between surface personnel and underground miners is especially important at strategic locations such as RAs due to their role in mine rescue efforts. Hence, research is needed on signal propagation in and out of various types of RAs to determine best practices for integration of communications and electronic tracking systems to provide coverage at the RA.

Industry, academia, other government agencies, and standard setting bodies adopt workplace solutions to reduce illness and traumatic injuries associated with excessive heat exposure.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker population Research Type
A Fatal and non-fatal illness Effects of heat strain (e.g., syncope, exhaustion, stroke) All mining (esp. underground) Basic/etiologic
Intervention
B Fatal and non-fatal injuries Injuries as a result of diminished attention, awareness, etc. Surface and underground mines Basic/etiologic
Intervention

Activity Goal MINxTIP 6.9.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand the current prevalence of heat stress/strain and contributing factors for injury among mining workers.

Activity Goal MINxTIP 6.9.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to assess factors affecting cognitive functions as an indicator of excessive heat exposure; develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the effects of heat stress and related injuries among mining workers.

Burden

Heat stress is likely a contributing factor to fatal and nonfatal injuries in the mining industry. Heat stress refers to the total heat load placed on the body from external environmental sources and from physical exertion. Miners exposed to excessive heat may be at higher risk of work-related injury. Studies have demonstrated increasing injury rates and unsafe work behaviors with increasing heat exposure [Fogleman et al. 2005; Knapik et al. 2002; Ramsey et al. 1983; Xiang et al. 2014]. Heat strain can also lead to adverse heat-related conditions of varying severity (e.g., heat syncope, heat rash, heat exhaustion, heat stroke). The burden of heat stress and heat illness in U.S. mining is unknown given underreporting, lack of formal surveillance systems for health and injuries among miners, and few U.S.-based studies of heat stress in mining. An analysis of Mine Safety and Health Administration data calculated the crude incidence of reported heat illness by mine sector and type during 1983−2001 and found 538 reported cases of heat illness associated with a total of 1,294 lost work days, averaging 2.4 lost work days per case. Further supporting the notion of underreporting in U.S. mines, a cross-sectional study estimated that 87 and 79% of Australian surface and underground miners, respectively, reported having experienced at least one heat illness symptom in the prior year, and over 80% of symptoms occurred on more than one occasion [Hunt et al. 2013].

Need

Although mines recognize the need to study heat strain among miners, most mines do not have the resources to perform comprehensive studies of heat strain that include cognitive changes, physiologic and environmental measurements, and personal risk factors. Three mines and one mine rescue team approached NIOSH for assistance with heat stress in 2016. Requests included heat stress education for miners and health and safety managers, underground heat surveys to evaluate areas with the highest heat exposure, and assistance with development of methods to predict heat strain among miners.

Many workplaces have designated the use of specific heat indices to determine thermal conditions (i.e. air temperature, radiant temperature, humidity, and air speed) that are unsafe for workers. Each heat index currently used in mining has limitations and its own ideal environmental application, and it is not clear which heat indices (if any) are appropriate for use in mining, and if they need to be task- and location-specific. Current heat indexes also do not account for the considerable variability between individuals in their tolerance to heat or include enough personal risk factors [Donoghue and Bates 2000; Donoghue et al. 2000; Kampmann and Bresser 1999; Lutz et al. 2014; NIOSH 2016].

Several facets of heat stress research have been identified by NIOSH as requiring further understanding in order to provide proper and effective guidance. These include: (1) heat exposure duration and patterns (e.g., intermittent vs constant exposure), (2) relationship of core body temperature and heat illness as a function of exposure time, (3) validation of personal monitoring methods, and (4) epidemiology studies to evaluate heat-related outcomes such as heat illness, productivity, and injuries [NIOSH 2016]. Studies under both controlled conditions and real-world mining conditions are needed to evaluate the effects of heat exposure on miners’ performance, assess which mining jobs are at highest risk of impact from heat exposure, determine the most appropriate cognitive tests for the mining environment, and investigate the effectiveness of designed solutions.

Industry, academia, and other government agencies adopt workplace solutions that enable mines to remediate risk factors for slips, trips, and falls.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker population Research Type
A Non-fatal injuries Environmental slip, trip, and fall hazard identification and recognition Underground mining; surface stone, sand, and gravel; mineral processing plants; coal preparation plants Basic/Etiologic
Intervention
B Non-fatal injures Develop and evaluate tools to identify, recognize and remediate slip, trip, and fall hazards Surface stone, sand, and gravel; mineral processing plants; coal preparation plants Intervention

Activity Goal 6.18.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic studies to determine environmental factors associated with slips, trips, and falls in the mining industry.

Activity Goal 6.18.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct intervention studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of tools and interventions to allow mine workers to identify and remediate slip, trip, and fall hazards.

Burden

Slips, trips, and falls (STFs) of a person are the second largest contributor to nonfatal injuries in the U.S. mining industry. Slips, trips, and falls accounted for 20.6% of nonfatal injuries and led to 2,442,404 days lost from work during the period from 2006 to 2015. Slips, trips, and falls also lead to fatalities, and accounted for the deaths of 55 miners at surface coal and surface metal/nonmetal facilities between 2006 and 2015 [Weston et al. 2016]. Publicly available MSHA reports describing fatalities at surface mining facilities [MSHA 2018] reveal that laborer, equipment operator, mechanic/maintenance man, and truck driver were the job categories associated with a large proportion of fatalities. Maintenance and repair, installation, construction, and dismantling have been shown to be hazardous tasks, and were also found to result in STF fatalities. The most common contributing factor was the lack of adequate fall protection or inappropriate use of a personal fall arrest system. Inadequate barriers, equipment-related factors, and a lack of adequate operating procedure were also identified as contributing factors.

Need

Although well established as a major source of injury, STF hazards are still widespread in the mining industry. Several factors contribute to workplace STFs, including environmental factors such as inadequate lighting and poor housekeeping, personal factors such as not maintaining three points of contact when climbing ladders or wearing fall protection, and equipment-related factors such as limited equipment access and damaged or poorly designed ingress/egress systems. There are few mining-specific resources available that can be readily used to prevent STFs at mine sites. Hence, there is a need to investigate and provide recommendations and tools to identify and remediate the environmental, personal, and equipment-related factors that contribute to STF injuries and fatalities in mining.

Donoghue AM, Bates GP [2000]. The risk of heat exhaustion at a deep underground metalliferous mine in relation to body-mass index and predicted VO2 max. Occup Med 50(4):259−263.

Donoghue AM, Sinclair MJ, Bates GP [2000]. Heat exhaustion in a deep underground metalliferous mine. Occup Environ Med 57:165−174.

Fogleman M, Fakhrzadeh L, Bernard TE [2005]. The relationship between outdoor thermal conditions and acute injury in an aluminum smelter. Int J Ind Ergon 35:47−55.

Future Market Insights [2016]. Smart mining market: digital revolution to transform the mining sector: global industry analysis and opportunity assessment, 2015-2020. London, UK: Future Market Insights

Hunt AP, Parker AW, Stewart IB [2013]. Symptoms of heat illness in surface mine workers. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 86:519−527.

Kampmann B, Bresser G [1999]. Heat stress and flame protective clothing in mine rescue brigadesmen: inter- and intraindividual variation of strain. Ann Occup Hyg 43(5):357−365.

Knapik JJ, Canham-Chervak M, Hauret K, Laurin MJ, Hoedebecke E, Craig S, Montain SJ [2002]. Seasonal variations in injury rates during U.S. Army basic combat training. Ann Occup Hyg 46(1):15−23.

Lutz EA, Reed RJ, Turner D, Littau SR [2014]. Occupational heat strain in a hot underground metal mine. JOEM 56(4):388−396.

MSHA [2018b]. Preliminary accident reports, fatality alerts and fatal investigation reports. Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, https://arlweb.msha.gov/fatals/External

MSHA [2017a]. Accident/Injury/Illness: Machinery/Mine Power Haulage Data, 2000-2015. Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, https://arlweb.msha.gov/STATS/PART50/p50y2k/p50y2k.HTMExternal

MSHA [2017b]. Accident/Injury/Illness: Ground Control Data, 2000-2015. Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, https://arlweb.msha.gov/fatals/External

MSHA [2017c]. Accident/Injury/Illness: Fires and Explosions Data, 2000-2015. Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, https://arlweb.msha.gov/STATS/PART50/p50y2k/p50y2k.HTMExternal

NAS (National Research Council) [2013]. Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines. Committee on Mine Safety: Essential Components of Self-Escape. Board on Human-Systems Integration, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press

NIOSH [2016]. NIOSH criteria for a recommended standard: occupational exposure to heat and hot environments. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2016−106, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2016-106/default.html

Ramsey JD, Burford CL, Beshir MY, Jensen RC [1983]. Effects of workplace thermal conditions on safe work behavior. J Safety Res 14:105−114.

Weston E, Nasarwanji MF, Pollard JP [2016]. Identification of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in mining. J Saf Health Env Res 12(1):274–283, http://www.asse.org/assets/1/7/JSHER_V12N1.pdfCdc-pdfExternal.

Xiang J, Bi P, Pisaniello D, Hansen A, Sullivan T [2014]. Association between high temperature and work-related injuries in Adelaide, South Australia, 2001−2010. Occup Environ Med 71:246−252.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018