Mining Project: Validating H&S Leading Indicators to Identify and Mitigate Risks in the Mining Industry

Principal Investigator
Start Date 10/1/2019

To use day-to-day health and safety leading indicator data to identify trends and predict health and safety outcomes that subsequently can be operationalized and addressed within risk management interventions to prevent fatalities, injuries, and the onset of disease among miners.

Research Summary

As fatalities and other severe incidents (i.e., lagging indicators) decrease and proactive health and safety (H&S) initiatives (i.e., leading indicators) increase, it is imperative to make use of the day-to-day information mine sites collect to reveal at-risk trends that the industry is facing. Currently, the use of informational risk management tools to help mines learn from mistakes and check performance does not exist in the industry. Such tools can help mines to identify, aggregate, analyze, and verify health, safety, and risk-based leading indicators that are critical to preventing the occurrence of incidents or the onset of disease. To this end, mines need assistance in how to operationalize, make improvements to, and measure progress among any “problem” element within their organizational health and safety management systems (HSMS). Efforts are needed to develop and appropriately use strength assessment and evaluation tools to document what works and what does not work in H&S management.

Although a positive accomplishment, recent reductions in mine fatalities (i.e., lagging indicators) offer little insight into risk management and measurement. Specifically, an International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) 2012 report argues that the industry is unable to make comprehensive interpretations of risks based on the minimal occurrences of fatalities. Additionally, a 2013 National Academies of Sciences (NAS) report advocates that more data encompassing the general mining industry is needed to make generalizable conclusions about HSMS as well as to establish safety benchmarks within the industry. Consequently, the industry needs to shift to a more proactive approach to risk management and rely on H&S leading indicators that are already frequently measured (e.g., near miss incidents, risk assessments, safety audits, behavioral observations, knowledge assessments, workplace exams, etc.) to help identify and control risks. It is a critical time for the industry to take advantage of leading indicators as a predictive metric of risk. First, however, more specialized research needs to be done to identify trends within these risk indicators and eventually, to help standardize preventative practices and examine how they can be applied and measured in the mining industry.

By implementing specific interventions using a standardized tool, this project will examine a novel approach to strengthening HSMS in the mining industry. NIOSH researchers will address the above issues by way of two research aims and related tasks, as summarized below.

  1. Use day-to-day H&S leading indicator data to identify trends and predict H&S outcomes to provide operational guidance on assessing and improving risk management processes. To accomplish this aim, NIOSH will collaborate with a private company, Acknowlogy, to collect and best utilize large amounts of day-to-day H&S information to better predict H&S outcomes by way of an advanced safety app developed by the company (free in the app store, but financed by employer payments). The platform allows for a customized safety experience based on the needs of each specific organization, where employees can engage in thinking through safe behaviors, noticing dangers, and what they can do better.
  2. Implement and evaluate a series of risk management interventions for incorporation into stakeholder guidelines, processes, and organizational practices. The purpose of this aim is to test the efficacy of an operational Mine Check tool, developed through research aim 1, via risk management interventions. This will help mines to assess and evaluate the strength of their HSMS. Data collected from these longitudinal interventions will be used to determine whether the use of a standardized tool to assess an HSMS has an impact on organizational changes in performance measurement and subsequently, how workers’ engagement, knowledge, attitudes, and protective H&S behaviors can be demonstrably linked to these interventions along with whether these changes are sustained at the organizational and worker levels at 3 months, 6 months, and beyond. Interventions will be carried out at several separate mine locations of varying subsectors. The interventions will utilize mixed methods with the purpose being to determine how the use of Mine Check affected the strength of organization’s HSMS, including certain components that helped both leaders and workers execute the system and desired work practices.

The long-term goal of the research is to reduce traumatic injuries, accidents, and illnesses on the individual, organizational, and industry level. However, before a change in worker injury, mortality, or morbidity rates can occur, more immediate goals include the identification and documentation of important leading indicators that can prevent such incidents as well as a mode to assess weaknesses in current indicators of interest. How these indicators can be modified and implemented via health, safety, and emergency management interventions will be evaluated so that NIOSH can provide adequate materials to mine personnel at underground and surface mine sites. The impact of these indicators and intervention materials will be measured by the number of requests for usage by members of the industry and the evaluation results of the projects’ interventions. In addition, impact can be gauged based on research literature citing project findings and by determining whether safety practitioners begin to advocate changes in their approaches to risk management based on project research.

Page last reviewed: 3/16/2020 Page last updated: 10/5/2019