Mining Project: Analyzing Industrial Hygiene Practices for Respirable Mine Dust

Principal Investigator
Start Date 10/1/2023

Workers’ exposure to hazardous levels of airborne respirable dust containing crystalline silica is a known occupational risk for the mining industry in every sector. In general, the industry has adopted and established approaches for managing this risk including worker health surveillance programs, routine exposure assessment, and the implementation of controls and interventions to lower exposures. Industrial hygiene methodologies used for exposure assessment and verification of the exposure and risk control include generation of data from samples collected via personal and area monitoring, statistical modelling, and feedback from workers. The specific use of additional sources of data, such as from sensors and novel data analysis techniques, is not well documented.

The primary purpose of this study is to investigate and document health, safety, and industrial hygiene (HS&IH) risk management practices and processes associated with monitoring and controlling respirable dust and crystalline silica (RD/CS) in hazardous work environments. This qualitative study will utilize an applied thematic analysis of HS&IH practices at mining companies, followed by a similar applied thematic analysis with other industries. A proper understanding of the current trends in terms of industrial hygiene and H&S practices, adoption of control strategies, risk communication, and H&S management in general, is a critical first step for supporting the mining industry in the effort to minimize the exposures to RD/CS in mine dust.

Topic Areas

Research Summary


NIOSH will use qualitative research methods to solve the problem presented in the Objective section. The use of qualitative methods allows for the collection of detailed data as expressed by study participants and the opportunity to probe into relevant information provided by participants. Specifically, focus groups and semi-structured interviews will be used with professionals who perform industrial hygiene and other leadership health and safety roles at companies. Individuals from up to three mining companies and non-mining companies in such positions will be recruited. Companies will be selected based on the interest and willingness to collaborate with NIOSH on this effort. Within each participating company, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with health and safety professionals to focus on high-level strategic aspects of IH risk management, while industrial hygienists will be asked to participate in a focus group to discuss operational aspects of their program. Project researchers opted for individual interviews to provide health and safety professionals an environment in which they can speak freely and without feeling judged or influenced by their peers. The managerial perspective about perceived barriers to professionals’ adoption of the practices and current resources offered to employees will be obtained in a separate focus group.

Two separate research instruments, being interviews and focus groups, will be developed and administered for these audiences. To develop the interview and focus group instruments, NIOSH will adapt existing instruments as well as review all available literature on the topic area. The interview/focus group questions will be piloted with industry professionals, but cognitive testing will not be performed. Types of questions and statements that may be posed include those listed below. Through the interviews and focus groups, NIOSH will obtain data on the use and knowledge of health, safety, and industrial hygiene frameworks and attitudes towards them. The responses will also lend themselves to an examination of how other internal and external entities influence the implementation of company risk management practices.

Milestones and Accomplishments

Description Audience Year
Will interview health and safety professionals and conduct management focus groups Health and safety professionals at mining operations


Will finalize data analysis and draft a manuscript for publication in a scientific journal Health and safety professionals at mining operations; academia; monitoring system manufacturers 2025

Planned Impacts and Outcomes

At the end of the project, NIOSH will have a better understanding of the approaches and practices used by industry professionals in terms of managing exposure and risk to RD/CS. In addition, NIOSH will collect information on the burdens and challenges faced by companies both at the individual mining sites as well as from a corporate standard considering the adoption of advanced real-time monitors and other direct-reading methodologies (DRM) for their dust hazard.

The assessment and quantification of the project research impact in terms of the improvement in health effects is very complicated due to a number of factors. One factor is the potential long latency period of diseases associated with the exposure to RD/CS. For this reason, it is not realistic to imagine measuring the impact of this study in terms of the reduction of the incidence of the diseases and health effects. However, project researchers can measure impact by the adoption of new guidelines that NIOSH is able to develop and disseminate—including the intentional adoption of new DRM and other methodologies in a safe and effective manner.

Overall, the project will support the opportunity for the parties of interest to assess the state of the HS&IH practices at their company to address the risk associated with exposure to respirable dust and crystalline silica.


Based on the results from this project, a journal paper will be written to provide a final summary of the findings on HS&IH practices for monitoring and controlling respirable dust and crystalline silica (RD/CS) in hazardous work environments. In addition to this primary journal article, presentations, additional articles, and publications focused in mining trade journals will be directed towards researchers, mine managers, mine health and safety personnel, and mine workers.

Page last reviewed: November 21, 2023
Page last updated: November 21, 2023