NIOSH Mine Safety and Health Technology Innovations Award
The NIOSH Mine Safety and Health Technology Innovations Award recognizes mines and companies that have made an extraordinary effort to apply technology or improve processes in innovative ways, above and beyond mandatory requirements, to improve mine worker safety and health.
In mining, technology should not be a one-time “fix” but rather an evolving and continuously improving process of applying new and better technologies and systems to solve problems. To recognize these safety milestones, NIOSH created the Technology Innovations Award with the goal of promoting technology identification, adoption, and dissemination throughout the mining industry. Mines and companies that qualify are invited to self-apply.
How to Apply
The nomination process is simple. Send an email to the Associate Director for Mining answering these questions:
- What problem were you solving?
- What is the technology or process and how does it work?
- How did you modify and evaluate the technology or process to solve your specific problem?
- What did you do to implement the technology or process at your mine?
- What health and safety benefits have been realized or are expected?
Specify which industry sector (metal, coal, industrial minerals, or stone, sand & gravel) is most applicable to your submission.
Dr. John Howard presents the 2014 NIOSH Mine Safety and Health Technology Innovations Awards.
Also include the name of the mining operation or company implementing the technology or process improvement and the name, email address, and phone number of the primary contact for the submission.
Pictures and diagrams are optional, but may be submitted to help us understand the technology. The submission does not need to be elaborately produced and the text can be in layman’s terms. If further clarification is needed during the review process, NIOSH will contact the submitters.
When we receive your nomination we will send you an acknowledgement and additional information on what to expect during the evaluation process.
Although nominations will be accepted throughout the year, please note that awards are given annually and the award date will correspond to the meeting date for the sponsoring organization. In order to allow time for full consideration of each nomination, nominations must be received no later than the listed deadline. Nominations received after the deadline will automatically be considered for an award in the subsequent year.
(click for printable flyer)
|Award Venue||Nomination Deadline||Meeting Date|
|Industrial Minerals||IMA-NA Annual Meeting in Park City, UT||July 1, 2021||Sept. 19-23, 2021|
|Stone, Sand, and Gravel||NSSGA Legislative & Policy Forum||July 31, 2021||Sept. 26-29, 2021|
|Metal||NMA Safety Award Ceremony at MINExpo||July 1, 2021||Sept. 13-15, 2021|
|Coal||NMA Safety Award Ceremony at MINExpo||July 1, 2021||Sept. 13-15, 2021|
For questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 412-386-5302.
2020 Award Winners
Using AI and Technology to Prevent Equipment Collisions (Coal)
Matrix Design Group developed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to prevent collisions of mobile surface equipment, as well as collisions involving machines and workers. The system uses a network of rugged cameras paired with AI and computer vision technology to alert operators to blind spots and hazards. The adaptable system can be set as a Collision Warning System or as a Collision Avoidance System with controls to slow or stop equipment. Matrix partnered with River View Coal, LLC, to install the system on a haul truck and plans for more installations.
Haul Truck Operator Scorecard (Metal)
Freeport-McMoRan Inc. paired multiple existing sensor technologies on haul trucks with big data technology to detect operator behaviors that fall outside of established safe operating practices. The company combined the technologies and a sophisticated algorithm into one application to identify opportunities for improvement. Using millions of data points generated daily by technologies across multiple mining sites allows Freeport-McMoRan to provide timely, relevant information back to haul truck operators, supervisors, and trainers. The company tested the application extensively both virtually and in the field with equipment operators, resulting in tremendous improvement in the health and safety of their operations.
Keeping Its Workforce Safe During COVID-19 (Industrial Minerals)
Genesis Alkali, LLC is using innovative approaches to keep its workforce safe and operational throughout the pandemic. An enhanced IT infrastructure lets office staff work from home and web-enabled tablets allow inspections to be shared live over the Internet. Innovations in work scheduling and virtual meetings prevent crowding in the mine and offices. Non-essential visitors are kept offsite entirely. Filter masks are provided and mandated when workers are within six feet of others. Handwashing and social distancing are encouraged through signage and stickers, while enhanced cleaning protocols are followed throughout the facility. As a result, Genesis Alkali has not traced any positive cases to onsite interactions.
Keeping Its Workforce Safe During COVID-19 (Stone, Sand & Gravel)
Suwannee American Cement is keeping its workforce safe and operational during the pandemic by using multiple innovations. Hygiene innovations include a touchless timeclock, touchless temperature stations, and conveniently located stations for hand washing and PPE. Employee contact is reduced through smaller work groups and directional workflows in common areas. Innovative procedures have been added for PPE usage requirements, special disinfecting technologies, and response protocols to COVID-positive situations. These innovations and other steps are communicated through text messaging, an e-newsletter, virtual meetings, large video displays. Mandatory training has been moved online. The company’s early response, personalized approach from expert recommendations and these innovations have likely contributed to minimal incidence of COVID-19 among the workforce during an unprecedented pandemic.
2019 Award Winners
Misting Technology to Reduce Silica Dust (Industrial Minerals)
Sibelco implemented an innovative technology to control the hazard of respirable silica dust. When operators of Sibelco’s Crystal Plant warehouse and packaging area in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, noted rising silica levels as a result of production increases, they created a plan to reduce those levels. After assessing the control needs at the warehouse and identifying problem areas, the plant team incorporated a FOGCO misting system, virtually eliminating airborne silica. Sibelco reports that operators’ dust reading concentrations have fallen to about half of the previous year’s levels.
Blind Spot Awareness Training (Coal)
The Gillette College Industry Safety Training Center, the Wyoming MSHA State Grant program, in developing a virtual mine tour has developed a stand-alone blind spot awareness training. This simulation combines 360-degree photos from an operating mine, GoPro and drone footage, and virtual reality technology that allows users to virtually experience blind spots from within 10 pieces of commonly used equipment in coal mines, including a haul truck and a dragline. Text from related MSHA regulations is incorporated into the training as an educational tool. The Center will use this technology in its new miner and refresher trainings, reaching approximately 4,000 miners per year.
Laddertube Escapeway System (Metal)
Safescape—an international company specializing in practical innovations for mines—developed and commercialized the Laddertube, a more durable and easier-to-climb escapeway ladder than a traditional steel or timber option. Steel ladders used in U.S. underground mines corrode over time and their installation requires welding, while handbuilt timber ladders degrade and are subject to debris buildup that can slow an escape and endanger climbers. As a modular escapeway ladder installed in segments within a thick polyethylene liner, the Laddertube also enables the use of a static line permanent fall arrest system and rest areas inside the ladderway as added safety benefits.
"The Worst Question" Video (Stone, Sand & Gravel)
As part of its annual safety training, Carmeuse Lime & Stone shares a 10-minute video featuring personal testimony from an experienced barge worker about a work-related accident leading to a compound fracture and torn tendon in his finger. Shipping its products by barge, the company stresses the need for safety around heavy equipment and amidst dynamic conditions. The video provides a relatable story about the need for daily communication about safety, helping to contribute to the company’s lowest-ever reportable injury rate. As the worker poignantly states, “The worst question you’ll ever have . . . is the one you don’t ask.”
2018 Award Winners
Proximity Detection System for Longwall Shields (Coal)
Ordinarily, shield movement is automated and therefore could result in crushing or pinning injuries to workers in close proximity. Consol Energy partnered with Komatsu Mining to develop and test a shield proximity system for use in the U.S. that combines low-power wireless transceivers and worker-worn battery-powered tags to protect nearby workers. When a worker is detected, the shields are prevented from moving until the worker is clear of the danger. Consol and Komatsu deployed the system in a highly active longwall face and refined the system's parameters, addressing appropriate distance between the shield and proximity pad, as well as lost tag notifications.
Operational Intelligence Suite Application (Metal)
With so many sensor systems and controls possibilities in a mine environment, it can be difficult to keep tabs on them all, let alone respond swiftly enough to address hazards and high exposure levels. Anglo American created the Operational Intelligence Suite (OiS) application that works with off-the-shelf, real-time sensors to detect a range of health hazards (e.g., noise, dust, gases) as well as controls (e.g., airflow, pressures). This app allows for real-time visualization of occupational health and environmental key performance indicators when employees may be at risk of exposure, enabling proactive avoidance of potential violations before they occur. OiS installations have enhanced safety at several worksites with early detection of a control failure, process leak, or change in the work environment, initiating corrective action and preventing employee exposure.
Moisture-Tolerant Rock Dust (Industrial Minerals)
Mixing rock dust with coal dust is necessary to guard against propagation of explosions in coal mines, but rock dusts vary in their critical ability to disperse when wet. Imerys created a moisture-tolerant rock dust by blending conventional rock dust with treated calcium carbonate to offer an optimal solution for mines. Cooperative testing with NIOSH demonstrated that the treated particles fill in void spaces between untreated rock dust particles, blocking the wicking action that allows water to penetrate conventional rock dust. Imerys ImerCoal MT moisture-tolerant rock dust is commercially available and is being used in coal mines throughout North America.
Dust Reduction Systems (Stone, Sand & Gravel)
Dealing with the health hazards of respirable crystalline silica dust is a longstanding challenge for the mining industry. Wisconsin Proppants Operations successfully reduced airborne exposures to crystalline silica and respirable dust generated during frac sand production by installing two systems to control these dusts at the Wisconsin Proppants Hixton Mine. The company’s use of a dense phase conveying system and a fogging system around rotex screens achieved dust reductions that offered measurable protections to workers.
2017 Award Winners
Three-Point Seatbelt Restraint System (Coal)
During sudden jolts or rollover events, a driver can be tossed violently in a cab, even while restrained with a traditional lap belt. Injuries can happen—leaving some drivers with permanent damage. Peabody Energy Corporation launched an effort to better restrain drivers in their truck seats after an April 2016 event in which a truck load shifted dramatically, causing one of their haul truck operators to experience a lower back compression fracture. The company set about to prevent these sort of injuries by working to design a three-point seat belt with electronic controls that locks the driver in place when a sudden shift or potential rollover event is detected. These new seat restraints are now installed in their haul trucks.
Redesigned Strike Hammer (Metal)
The design of strike hammers previously used at Kinross Gold Corporation left the workers using them at risk of two things: airborne contaminants that could be kicked up when the slag is fractured, and pieces of hot slag ejecting out of the molds which could lead to serious burns. Finding that the industry lacked a strike hammer that suited their desire to control the ejection of broken slag and contaminants, the company set about designing, developing, and engineering the specific tool needed. Kinross Gold’s newly engineered hammer controls airborne contaminants and prevents hot, loose slag from ejecting when workers fracture slag in assay molds. This redesign offers greater protection to fire assay technicians.
Use of Technology to Safeguard Employees (Metal)
The word "drones" may call to mind their uses in warfare or recreation, but one company has put them to work in a novel way. Rather than send workers into hazardous areas to survey mine sites, Freeport-McMoRan has begun using a drone to give them a bird’s eye view of their mine environment. The military-grade drone was modified to allow it to carry technology capable of recording high-quality images and streaming live video. The drone is used to inspect highwalls, tailings, large mill buildings, power lines, traffic flows, and several other aspects of their operations, including providing an additional aerial safety check in advance of blasting and documenting blast sequencing. The use of the drone reduces the risk of falls from heights, electrocutions, injury or death from highwall failures, and provides an extra measure of safety for mine operators who no longer must venture out to hazardous locations for a first look. The drone’s imaging system can transmit streaming video, and take very clear pictures for mapping purposes.
Health and Wellness Program (Stone, Sand & Gravel Sector)
Fitness for duty can be negatively affected if a company's workforce struggles with numerous health challenges. Granite Mountain Quarries and Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Company began a health and wellness program for employees and their spouses in order to address a growing concern that worker health might compromise the safety of the job site. The multi-operation company rewarded healthy habits and healthy behavior through cash and HRA contributions. Many employees lost weight and stopped smoking. About half of employees now regularly get annual physicals, and many of those employees have either begun taking medications to address previously unknown issues, or been able to stop taking medication due to weight loss and better health habits. The company states that their workforce now reports to work energetic, alert, and ready to concentrate on the task at hand.
2016 Award Winners
Fan Hanging Machine (Metal Sector)
Hanging auxiliary fans in underground metal mines is a difficult and potentially hazardous job, as the fans are large and the equipment currently used to lift them into place does not provide a safe location for workers away from the suspended load. Small Mine Development, LLC, and JH Fletcher together developed a purpose-built fan hanging machine to protect mine workers from the potential hazards of working around a large, suspended load. This machine securely holds the fan and has a platform for miners that travels up with the fan and moves independently along the length of the fan.
Stockpile Safety System (Coal Sector)
The safety of workers who operate dozers on surface stockpiles at mines depends on knowing where feeder locations are, and if material is feeding properly from above operating feeders. Arch Coal, Inc.’s Leer Mine developed a stockpile safety system to enhance dozer operator awareness and to help eliminate stockpile dozer incidents. The system offers video to the dozer operator and the plant operator of the dozer's location on the stockpile in relation to the feeders. An audible warning is provided if the dozer enters a zone above the feeder. In addition, the operators can confirm via video that the coal is being pulled from the surface of the stockpile to indicate there are not any voids. This system represents a significant advance to enhance dozer operator awareness to help eliminate future stockpile dozer incidents.
Dry Scrubbing System (Industrial Minerals Sector)
Airborne dust generated when ore is handled or transported can be a health hazard for mine workers. Focusing on the conveyor transfer point as a significant airborne dust contributor, Tronox Alkali developed a dry scrubber system that separates the dust particles from the air and uses an automated compressed air pulse system to clean the filters. The removed dust is collected in a hopper where it is mixed with water and then pumped to a mining sump. The system has been very effective and the company plans to have a second system operational soon.
2015 Award Winners
Compressed Air Foam Fire Suppression System (Coal Sector)
A fire in an underground coal mine can spread quickly, threatening the lives of every worker in the mine. Rapid suppression of the fire is often the best way to prevent disaster. Working with RM Wilson Company and Red Dog Services, Murray Energy Corporation developed a rail car-mounted compressed air foam fire suppression system to fight fires that can occur when transporting combustible material out of the mine. This system consists of a Red Dog Services Suppressor 60 modified to be mounted on an underground rail car with 500 feet of fire hose. Murray Energy worked with its partners to develop, refine, and test the system for effectiveness and durability. They have deployed 20 systems through seven of their operating companies.
Helmet-CAM Technology (Industrial Minerals Sector)
Workers' exposure to respirable dust containing crystalline silica has long been a concern for the health of our nation’s workers. Unimin Corporation worked in cooperation with NIOSH to field test and evaluate the Helmet-CAM technology. The Helmet-CAM technology integrates a wearable video recorder with a real-time data-logging aerosol monitor for the effective and efficient assessment and identification of work areas and processes that impact a worker’s personal respirable dust exposure. Unimin implemented the Helmet-CAM technology at about 40 of its operations, requiring each production facility to conduct two Helmet-CAM studies annually to identify opportunities to further control exposures or to evaluate controls.
2014 Award Winners
An Integrated Approach to Real Time Data Analysis for Changing Ground Conditions (Metal Sector)
The safety of miners in open pit operations is highly dependent on understanding changing ground conditions using data from numerous types of sensing technologies. To implement its vision of a safety based geomechanical program, Freeport–McMoRan has embraced existing and emerging technologies and has created active partnerships with various data collection, information systems and technical providers. Through this cooperative effort, a system was developed that consolidates large sets of raw and processed data from many data streams, can produce early alarms based on movement outside of predicted trends, and analyze ground behavior to provide geomechanicial engineers timely and accurate notifications to support appropriate actions. Importantly, this integrated approach to real time data analysis and automated alarms represents the next big step in safety improvements that can be applied to many different surface and underground mining operations.
An Innovative Technology Solution to Improve Safety during Longwall Recovery Operations (Coal Sector)
Coal miners can be exposed to many hazards during the difficult process of a longwall recovery. JENNMAR, and its engineering affiliate company, Keystone Mining Services, working together with Signal Peak Energy personnel, developed and demonstrated a successful method to greatly reduce the exposure of miners to hazardous conditions during this process. This method made longwall recovery history by successfully mining into a 42-foot wide, full-face recovery entry that was first bolted, meshed, and then completely back-filled with a specially formulated, cuttable, low density concrete that was pumped from the surface. As a result of the coordination and cooperation between JENNMAR and Signal Peak, an innovative use of this technology was developed resulting in improved safety during longwall recovery operations.
Remote Loader Operation (Stone, Sand, and Gravel sector)
Luck Stone modified a CAT 988G pit loader so it could be operated either remotely or from the cab, which reduced the risk of injuries during certain hazardous operations. The CAT 988G uses an electro-hydraulic system, which means that electronic controls in the cab feed a computer with information that controls the hydraulic valves on the machine. To bypass the machine's computer and allow an operator to control the machine outside of the cab, Luck Stone installed a supplemental processor which can take commands from a wireless remote control. A toggle switch on the processor allows an operator the option of controlling the machine in the cab or at a safe distance. The remote capability permits an operator to control many of the machine's functions, including the boom lift circuit, the bucket rack back and dump circuit, the engine's RPMs, the engine's emergency shut-down, and the transmission's forward, reverse, and neutral gear selection. With this innovation, Luck Stone provided its workers with a way to take the hazard out of many hazardous operations.
2013 Award Winners
A Collision Avoidance System to Improve Mine Access and Haul Road Safety (Metal Sector)
The risks of travel on mine access and haul roads significantly increase during darkness, fog, and other adverse weather conditions. Collision avoidance under limited visibility conditions is a challenging problem, and the aviation industry has reduced accidents through the application of traffic-awareness technologies. Hecla's Greens Creek Mine, working with SAFEmine Technology USA, adapted a GPS and radio technology approach first used for aircraft collision avoidance. The resulting peer-to-peer communication system is simple and robust, providing vehicle operators with improved situational awareness and voice-annunciated warnings when potential collisions develop.
Next-Generation Sensors for Atmospheric Monitoring Systems (Coal Sector)
The potential for atmospheric monitoring systems to improve mine safety is limited by commercially available sensors that can be deployed throughout underground coal mines. Alpha Natural Resources partnered with Matrix Design Group to design, develop, and commercialize improved air velocity, low-power methane, and flexible-use carbon monoxide sensors, with wireless and wired data transfer options. The intrinsically safe approval with the 24-hour battery backup provides post-accident functionality for these sensors in addition to their day-to-day use to improve mine safety by detecting potentially harmful developments in the mine's ventilation network.
Clothes Cleaning Booth Technology (Industrial Minerals Sector)
Contaminated work clothing represents a potentially significant area of respirable dust exposure for workers at industrial minerals operations. Unimin Corporation, working in cooperation with NIOSH, developed a clothes cleaning booth technology. This technology provides a quick, safe, and highly effective method that allows workers to clean their dust-soiled clothing periodically throughout the workday. This system safely captures the dust and contaminants from the worker’s clothing and removes them so as to not further expose the worker, co-workers, or the work environment. This technological innovation has been commercialized and put into practice at multiple work sites.
2012 Award Winners
The inaugural awards, which highlighted coal and metal/nonmetal mining, were presented on September 25, 2012, during MINExpo at the ceremony for the National Mining Association Sentinels of Safety Awards. These awards, initiated in 1925, are given annually to the nation’s safest mines.
The National Mining Association provided framed certificates for the 2012 winners:
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold received the award for adapting an Australian over-the-road fatigue monitoring system for use in mine haul trucks and for implementing practices to use the information provided by the system to prevent accidents in the surface mining environment.
Lockheed Martin was recognized for developing a two-way, through-the-earth (TTE) mine communication system, known as MagneLink®, to aid in the rescue of underground mine workers in a post-accident environment. The system provides two-way voice and text communication from deep underground mines to the surface.
CONSOL Energy was honored for its commitment and collaboration to improve post-accident communications and for interfacing Lockheed Martin’s TTE technology with the company’s primary communications system. This could expand mine workers’ options for post-accident communications and possibly expedite the development and commercialization of TTE technology. The MagneLink® system was installed at CONSOL’s Robinson Run mine in West Virginia in November 2011 to evaluate its capability in an operational mine.
Background: The Challenge of Applying Technologies in Mining
The Sago Mine disaster in 2006 illuminated the critical role that technology needs to play to allow for mine worker escape and rescue in a post-accident environment. The ensuing discussions, Congressional hearings, and the NMA’s Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission revealed inadequacies in the development and adoption of technologies that could improve mine safety, especially in the areas of emergency communications and tracking, refuge alternatives, and oxygen supply. The reasons for these inadequacies are many, and Congress correctly pinpointed a key barrier: The market for technology products in mining is so small that it is difficult to recover the costs for research and development, or even the ordinary costs associated with commercializing a new technology. Further compounding the problem, technology products approved under international standards and used in mines in other countries cannot be used in the United States unless they have been approved by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The costs associated with the approval process are often considered greater than the potential U.S. market for the product. In practical terms, this has kept some technologies from the U.S. market.
Congress addressed this “small market” problem and codified the importance of mine safety technology in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) of 2006. In the MINER Act, NIOSH was charged with developing existing and new technologies related to oxygen supply, refuge chambers, and communications and tracking. NIOSH has met this challenge in partnership with the mining industry, labor unions, manufacturers, the international mining community, and other Federal agencies including MSHA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Naval Research Laboratory. As a result, our nation’s mines are now populated with a suite of post-accident communications and tracking technologies, many of which were developed through the NIOSH programs established by the MINER Act.
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