Mining Project: Inexperience as a Contributor to Workplace Injury

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

To characterize the effect that inexperience has on risk of injury and to reduce related risks for miners new to the industry, to specific worksites, or to their jobs or tasks.

Topic Area

Research Summary

In 2017, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and other NIOSH stakeholders issued a press release expressing concerns about the higher number of injuries and fatalities for miners with less experience. Preliminary analysis of incident data from 2006 to 2017 showed that miners with less experience made up a high number of injured workers in both coal and non-coal sectors. Although inexperience is a known risk factor for workers in many industries, including mining, the relationship between inexperience and injury cannot be adequately characterized without a deeper analysis of relative risk. Moreover, without an adequate characterization of the relationships among levels and types of experience across mining sectors, researchers cannot effectively advise mines on the relative risk of miners with varying degrees of experience in the industry, at the mine site, and on the job. This knowledge can be used by the industry to take action to mitigate increased risk among miners who are most at risk.

For the above reasons, there is a need to better understand the role that worker inexperience plays in injury prevalence. The NIOSH Mining Program has access to the pertinent data and has the statistical expertise required to estimate relative risk and to identify targets requiring intervention. A proper analysis of this problem required operational data from multiple operators and sectors, and the Mining Program used existing relationships and resources to gather such data as part of this project research. NIOSH researchers have extensive experience in collaborating with industry and intra-NIOSH colleagues to translate scientific assets into informational and training resources that have been adopted throughout the industry.

To address the question of inexperience and associated risks, this project had three aims, which are described below. 

  1. Characterize the effect that miner inexperience has on the risk of injury. This research aim involved multivariate analyses of available quantitative data on miner injuries and fatalities from MSHA, using miner demographic estimates from NIOSH’s national survey to calculate relative risk rates for injury based on levels of experience in mining, at a particular mine, and in a specific job.
  2. Investigate current practices for transitioning miners into new workplaces or tasks. To meet this aim, researchers took an applied ethnographic approach—using qualitative analysis of key informant interviews and relevant onboarding, training, and safe performance support materials to determine current industry practices related to onboarding new employees and to assigning personnel to new tasks or work locations. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was secured before undertaking this research aim.
  3. Provide industry with informational safety and intervention tools targeting less experienced miners, their co-workers, trainers, and mine management. To achieve this research aim, evidence of significant relationships among levels and types of experience and injury frequency and relevant translational products have been disseminated to the industry.

Results of this work are relevant to miners in all sectors. A description of the types of experience that affect risk of injury by sector can help mine operators to focus interventions on miners found to be at the highest risk of injury. This information and potential mitigation strategies have been disseminated to the industry through conference presentations across mining sectors. Awareness of increased risk among inexperienced miners enables the industry to better address key areas identified through the research, which can lead to a reduction in inexperience-related injury rates in mining. Industry interest in this topic continues to be high and NIOSH will distribute additional project findings as resources allow.

Page last reviewed: January 9, 2024
Page last updated: January 9, 2024