Mining Project: Prevention of Manual Materials Handling Injuries in Mining

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Principal Investigator
Start Date 10/1/2018
End Date 9/30/2023

To reduce manual materials handling (MMH) injuries in mining through increased usage of materials handling solutions and safe practices.

Topic Area

Research Summary

NIOSH researchers analyzed Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) accident, illness, and injury data to determine trends in health and safety issues that affect mine workers. Data from 2017 showed that materials handling results in nearly 70,000 days lost from work and accounts for over 1,700 nonfatal injuries with days lost from work and another 900 injuries without days lost from work. Handling materials is consistently the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in mining, with slips, trips, and falls as the second leading contributor.

Research and targeted dissemination strategies are needed to improve safe handling practices at mine sites and introduce new or emerging technologies to reduce the reliance on manual materials handling and to develop effective hand and finger protection. The NIOSH Mining Program is uniquely suited to conduct this research due to experience in quantifying physical job demands, manual materials handling expertise, and excellent working relationships with mining companies.

To address the issue of reducing manual materials handling injuries, this project had three research aims, which were carried out as described below. 

  1. Provide mining-specific information to minimize materials handling risks at mine sites. A literature review was conducted to acquire, review, and store publicly available tools, training materials, and guidance on MMH. Results were reviewed by ergonomists within the Mining Program to determine their applicability or potential for applicability to mining, and non-mining specific content with applicability to mining was revised through the use of mining-specific photos or videos to tailor that content to the mining community. Mine health and safety professionals were solicited at conferences and through trade publishers to provide examples of the types of information they use to develop MMH safety trainings and make workplace changes. A Mining Program webpage devoted to MMH information was created to serve as a single, easily accessibly resource for mining MMH information, guidance, examples, and links to external sources.
  2. Develop workplace guidance and performance specifications for hand protection to prevent severe hand and finger injuries associated with materials handling. This research aim was accomplished through analysis of injury data and literature review. Recommendations were formed to address the root causes identified from the literature review and injury data analysis. Performance specifications and gaps in literature were included to inform future research on product development and evaluation for mining applications.
  3. Determine the efficacy of using exoskeletons to reduce the physical demands of manual materials handling tasks at mine sites. Exoskeletons are emerging technologies that—to the knowledge of NIOSH researchers—have yet to be applied to the U.S. mining industry. With research and proper selection criteria, it is likely that an exoskeleton exists that may help reduce the physical demands of MMH activities in mining. To explore that possibility, the MSHA injury database was analyzed to determine three manual materials handling tasks commonly associated with shoulder overexertion injuries in multiple mining commodities. These were replicated at the NIOSH Pittsburgh facility in the Human Performance Research Mine (HPRM) and were used to determine the physical demands of the tasks. Market research was used to match an exoskeleton to each task based on the developed performance characteristics. Multiple arm support exoskeletons believed to match the task were purchased for use. Future lab testing will evaluate if the exoskeletons are effective at reducing the physical demands of the task and not introducing new risks, and they will be evaluated at mine sites through a combination of human subjects testing and quantitative and qualitative metrics. The lab and field testing will be done as part of the NIOSH project, Using Exoskeletons to Reduce Overexertion Injuries.  

Manual materials handling injuries place significant financial burdens on mining companies and are associated with long recovery times for workers suffering from injury. Any reduction in the number of manual materials handling tasks due to workplace design changes, or reductions in the physical requirements of manual materials handling operations, will greatly reduce injury risks and financial costs at mine sites. This project ensures that mining-specific manual materials handling recommendations, practices, and documentation of proven solutions are accessible to all mines via one dedicated Mining Program webpage on manual materials handling.

Page last reviewed: December 11, 2023
Page last updated: February 10, 2019