Meeting Minutes from Automation and Emerging Technologies Health and Safety Partnership, Oct. 8 and 9, 2020


The NIOSH Automation and Emerging Technologies Health and Safety Partnership gathered for the first time virtually for two four-hour sessions on October 8 and 9, 2020. Between 90 and 130 people were in attendance throughout the two days. The session’s main objective was to engage interested stakeholders in collaborative discussion about automation and emerging technologies and their potential to impact health and safety as we transition to more automated mines. Another objective was to discuss future research needs in this area and provide a forum for organizations to share research results. It was agreed by many participants that the first objective was achieved and the second one began and will continue to develop over time. It is expected that this partnership will continue to meet about once per year.


After a brief welcome from Drs. Jessica Kogel of NIOSH and Joel Haight of the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Lisa Steiner and Mr. Todd Ruff, both of NIOSH, added their welcomes. They also discussed the role of NIOSH in this partnership and some of its upcoming research plans.

Labor and Trade Associations:

Several labor and trade associations provided statements of support for the partnership and they pledged participation and engagement from their perspectives. Present and offering statements were Mark Ellis, President of the Industrial Minerals Association of North America offering his association’s support for and participation with NIOSH in developing and implementing their future research agenda. He stated that he would like to see research advance safety and health for mining and this area of automation because of its rapidly evolving nature. He expressed interest in making sure that we understand how to safely have humans collaborate with automation, work alongside automation. Also, that those who are displaced by automation or are exposed to that automation in other ways, continue to remain employed in challenging work and are both safe and healthy as a result of their interface with the automation.

Mr. Ellis was followed by Ms. Libby Pritchard, the safety director for the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) and the Portland Cement Association (PCA). She also pledged her association’s support and participation in the Partnership and provided insight into the areas of the automation transition that are important to NSSGA and PCA. As many of her members are smaller operators with fewer resources, she expressed interest in learning how to retrofit equipment and technology to their types of operations since technology emerges much faster than mining equipment is taken out of service. She also suggested collaboration between NIOSH and MSHA to ensure that regulations are well informed by the research published by NIOSH. She also expressed interest in seeing technologies be available for use but that their use not be mandated.

Jeff Jurgens, Director of Product Stewardship for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), offered his association’s support and participation as well and added that, since he represents forestry, construction, and agriculture in addition to mining, he could offer insight on collaboration opportunities with industries outside of mining. They already have an 'autonomous machines' coordinating committee that could be a useful resource for this partnership. He expressed significant interest in adopting an accepted automation taxonomy and definition system to ensure less confusion between users, manufacturers, regulators, etc. He suggested the partnership’s input to standards development to help ensure broader and more informed input to standards as they develop in this dynamic and rapidly changing environment.

Kyle Zimmer of the International Union of Operating Engineers expressed interest in his members maintaining their employment as more and more operations become autonomous. We should address a culture change to one of acceptance, support, and contribution such that his membership can embrace emerging technology as a way to improve output, safety and quality. He also expressed interest in the partnership helping to ensure user-friendly technology.

Adele Abrams, an attorney in the Law Offices of Adele Abrams, addressed the potential disparity that may exist in the uses of technology and the resources to take advantage of the benefits of technology between small operators who may not have resources and the larger operators who are more likely to have the resources to adopt and use this technology. She asks that this disparity be addressed in some of the research.

Case Study Presentations:

Presentations were made by Matt Majors of Nevada Gold Mines, and Jeff Rosser of Hecla, in the form of case studies. These two industry representatives presented their experiences in transitioning to a more automated state and thoroughly covered some very important aspects of this transition that are relevant to health and safety. They covered everything from operations and maintenance, to skill decrement and training and culture change. Much can be learned from these two companies (see Agenda and Presentations on this webpage).

Then David Edwards of Caterpillar presented some of what they are doing to not only innovate, design, and build autonomous equipment, but also to address health and safety of operators as well as to aid in the safe transition to the use of their equipment.

Robin Burgess-Limerick of the University of Queensland, then presented an international perspective as he discussed history, current state, and progress of the industry in Australia. They have been transitioning for a number of years and Robin and industry representatives can help this partnership by providing direction as to the learnings that they have already undergone.

Standards Development:

Andrew Scott of GMG, Victoria Nneji of Edge Case Research, and Adam Norton of NIST explained the current state of automation standards. There are currently several automation-based standards in existence and many more in development. There is a role that this partnership can play in this standards and guidelines area. Participation on some of the standards committees as well as informing standards bodies of needs and expectations as seen by the partners with their very diverse viewpoints across industry, manufacturers, labor, government and academia.

MSHA Powered Haulage and Collision Avoidance Technology:

Wesley Shumaker provided an informative update from MSHA on their work in the two areas of Powered Haulage and Collision Avoidance Technology.

Breakout Session Outcomes:

For the rest of the meeting, the group was divided into three breakout areas; Underground, Surface, and Small mines. Libby Pritchard of NSSGA and PCA facilitated the Small Mine discussion, Steve Schafrik of the University of Kentucky facilitated the Underground discussion, and Jordan Oxborrow of Sedna facilitated the Surface Mine group. After an hour of discussion among each group, everyone returned to the main meeting and the facilitators summarized the results from each breakout for the whole group. Several top issues emerged as areas for further discussion or exploration:

  • Best practices and lessons learned from other mining companies and from our international partners that have already implemented autonomous equipment.
  • Consistent taxonomy in automation and emerging technology for use in standards and in equipment sales.
  • Vigilance, performance decrement over a period of time as an operator stares at a screen for hours monitoring equipment. Is there information available on when decrement in performance occurs?
  • Drones and how they can be used in mining, especially for small operators.
  • New technology in other industries that can apply to mining.
  • Retrofitting existing equipment with new equipment (technology rapidly becomes obsolete, but mining equipment lasts a long time).
  • Development of effective human machine/computer interfaces (addressing situational awareness, information overload, display balance, feedback delivery priorities, etc.).
  • Human limitations in supervising automated systems or multiple autonomous machines.
  • Sensory feedback for remote control operators.
  • Training related to the potential transition-induced skill gap in operation/supervision of autonomous equipment, maintenance, hazard recognition.
  • Best practices for communications infrastructure to implement autonomous equipment.
  • Guidelines for safe human-machine interaction (manned equipment working next to autonomous equipment).
  • Information on standards/guidelines related to implementation of automated equipment.

The following action items were planned for the future:

  • Plan for yearly partnership meetings (NIOSH)
  • Encourage more mine operators to attend (NIOSH and partners)
  • Share case studies and best practices at future meetings (NIOSH and partners)
  • Consider combining meetings with a site visit (NIOSH)

These items will be discussed at the spring 2021 partnership planning meeting.

Page last reviewed: December 8, 2020
Page last updated: December 8, 2020