Mining Program Strategic Plan, 2019-2023 - Setting Research Priorities
Setting research priorities is one of our biggest and most important challenges. Our goal is to ensure that the priority setting process is broad-based, inclusive, unbiased, transparent, and data-driven. The process must also be responsive to changes in stakeholder needs and interests. We draw on a number of different sources for input into the process and they are described below.
NIOSH uses Burden, Need, and Impact (BNI) to identify and define research priorities. BNI is an objective tool that ensures we do the most important work to protect the workforce and identify research priorities to guide the investment of limited resources in a clear and transparent manner.
The NIOSH Mining Program establishes burden and need through surveillance data, statistical analysis, stakeholder input, and risk analysis. Surveillance data show how workers are being fatally injured, injured, or impaired. Our stakeholders identify their needs, and we communicate with our stakeholders regularly to better understand those needs. We use risk analysis to assess low-probability, high-impact events such as mine explosions.
Our broad base of stakeholders includes academia; equipment manufacturers; government; mine operators; mining industry trade associations; organized labor; regulatory agencies (on the local, state, and federal levels); research laboratories; and suppliers. We collaborate and communicate with our stakeholders on a regular basis to better inform our research and assess its direct contributions to safety and health.
Our stakeholders are the end users of our research and therefore our research is largely driven by their needs. Our stakeholders are diverse and each stakeholder group has unique perspectives and interests when it comes to mine worker health and safety. NIOSH relies on several mechanisms for gathering stakeholder input.
One mechanism involves convening multi-stakeholder partnerships to bring diverse perspectives to the table around technically complex topics. This model for collaboration has proven to be highly effective. Currently there are five active partnerships including the Breathing Air Supply Partnership (BAS), Diesel Health Effects Partnership, Rock Dust Partnership, Proximity Detection Systems Partnership, and Refuge Alternatives Partnership. Two additional partnerships are currently under development that include topics related to automation and emerging technologies and respirable mine dust.
In addition to partnerships, the NIOSH Mining Program receives advice from the Mine Safety and Health Research Advisory Committee (MSHRAC), which is a Federal Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from our major stakeholder groups. MSHRAC provides advice on mine safety research and serves as a productive forum for information exchange. To ensure that the advice from the committee is objective and available to the public, MSHRAC utilizes the rules for engagement under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
An additional effort to advance communication and collaboration across the mining health and safety community includes the NIOSH-facilitated National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Mining Sector Council. This broad, non-advisory Council comprises representatives across the occupational health and safety spectrum, including public- and private-sector researchers, professionals, consultants, practitioners, and manufacturers. The Council works to identify the most salient needs of this large and diverse global sector, facilitate the most important research, understand the most effective intervention strategies, and learn how to implement those strategies to achieve sustained improvements in workplace practice. NORA runs in ten-year cycles and is now in its third decade. During its second decade, the Mining Sector Council developed the National Mining Agenda for Occupational Safety and Health Research and Practice in the U.S. Mining Sector (the Agenda). The Agenda is made up of 8 objectives and 62 sub-objectives, and captures the breadth of current occupational health and safety challenges facing the U.S. mining industry. During its third decade, the Council is focusing on prioritizing the objectives and sub-objectives of the Agenda. These objectives are for the good of the nation and all of its research and development entities, whether government, higher education, or industry-related. The Mining Program goals support each of the NORA Mining Sector Agenda objectives and articulate NIOSH’s contribution. The NORA Mining Sector Agenda objectives support each of the strategic goals of the Mining Program. In summary, the NORA Mining Sector Agenda was developed and implemented through the NORA Mining Sector Council and is guidance for the nation as a whole, while the NIOSH Mining Program Strategic Plan is specific to NIOSH and its capabilities and resources.
The MSHA rulemaking process can also affect our research priorities. NIOSH and MSHA communicate on a regular basis to better serve our common goal of improving mine worker health and safety. One mechanism for communication between our agencies is through a Request for Information (RFI)—one recent example is MSHA's Respirable Silica (Quartz). An RFI describes a problem or an issue for which MSHA requests data, comments, and other information from the public relevant to the problem presented. When relevant scientific research is available, the NIOSH Mining Program will submit a formal response to the RFI based on our scientific expertise. This comment period is a formal mechanism for the NIOSH Mining Program to participate in the rulemaking process.
Our responses to an RFI help MSHA to determine an appropriate course of action to address a particular health and safety problem or issue. MSHA may choose to enact or develop a rule based on this information. If a rule is pending, we may choose to redirect our research to bring the best science possible to the mining community before the rule is in place or during the rulemaking process. Through this process, we can proactively provide scientific evidence to MSHA for developing and implementing new rules that protect miner health and safety.