Mining Project: Assessing and Evaluating Human Systems Integration Needs in Mining

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Principal Investigator
Start Date 10/1/2012
End Date 9/30/2015

To use a systems approach to characterize what information needs to be provided to mine workers, determine the timing and format of that information, and then use this information to develop alternative solutions and provide the mining industry with a better understanding of the design principles for the implementation of new and existing interfaces.

Topic Area

Research Summary

Mine workers interface with production and health and safety technologies on a daily basis, and many of these technologies were introduced following the MINER Act of 2006. As the industry develops these new technologies, it is important to understand the whole system. Designers should consider not only how the specific pieces of equipment affect mine workers, but also the safety solutions that workers already use and the added physical and cognitive challenges of the new items. A Human Systems Integration (HSI) approach can address these problems. HSI specifically focuses on human capabilities and limitations as a part of the total system performance, making the mine worker central to technology development.

In order to begin to address this problem, NIOSH researchers conducted a project specifically looking at the burden on continuous miner operators in underground coal mines. This project had two research aims:

  1. Identify tasks with a high risk of human systems integration breakdown and the factors that contribute to that elevated risk (equipment, tools, and environment interfaces).
  2. Evaluate information exchange and notification methods aimed to improve the worker’s situational awareness.

Under this project, using the HSI approach, NIOSH researchers worked to characterize the informational needs of continuous miner operators, by looking at the questions of who, what, and when. Researchers specifically focused on the continuous miner operator to limit the scope and to maximize the effectiveness. In room and pillar mining and longwall development sections, the continuous miner operator is typically the center of all production tasks and is required to interact with most of the section crew. Therefore, this position provides a good starting point for exploring information consumption and transfer.

The research tasks focused on identifying high-risk breakdowns and characterizing current methods of information exchanges through the identification and characterization of common and uncommon tasks, cognitive demands and decisions, the types and capabilities of equipment currently in use, information currently available to miners, and the preferred method and timing of information delivery.

Through observational studies, researchers identified information breakdowns in planning and section coordination as well as the need for further study of the effect of proximity detection on operators’ ability to perform their jobs. Researchers learned that mine operators should ensure that mine workers know and understand the anticipated direction of mining and its effects on routing cable and traffic. Lack of coordination can lead to additional exposure in handling cable, tram time, and poor traffic control. The results of questionnaires and interviews suggested that as technology is being integrated into mining, more consideration is needed into what information is necessary, how it can be effectively delivered, and promoting and training mine workers about how it should be used. Technology integration is a gradual process that needs to be continually reevaluated as technology matures and processes change in order to provide the greatest benefit to the health and safety of all mine workers. Lastly, as a result of the work, researchers are looking deeper into other specific technologies such as proximity detection and emergency communications to improve technology integration and information delivery.

Related Publication

Bellanca J, Eiter B, and Orr T, 2017. Informational Preferences of Coal Miners: The What, When and Who, Coal Age, January–February, 122(1):34–38.

Page last reviewed: June 12, 2017
Page last updated: June 12, 2017