Miner Safety and Health Training Program – Western United States


In 1969, the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act provided funding for state health and safety training through grants from MSHA. The mining community in the Eastern United States is served by the MSHA Training Academy in Beckley, West Virginia. MSHA, under the Department of Labor, provides training to federal mine inspectors and mining professionals from other governmental agencies, the mining industries, and labor. MSHA also provides 30 CFR part 46 Training Assistance for new employees, refresher training, new task training, and training on Site-specific Hazards. States use MSHA grant funds to provide federally mandated training to miners working in coal, metal, and nonmetal mines, both on the surface and underground. MSHA’s State Grants Program distributes federal grants to 49 states and the Navajo Nation. Grants are made to the state agency program responsible for miners’ safety and health. Most grant funds are used to support safety and health training courses and programs designed to reduce mining accidents, injuries, and illnesses.

Since 1999, when the health and safety functions of the Bureau of Mines were transferred to NIOSH, NIOSH has supported the safety and health training of miners in the Western United States. NIOSH support for miner training has been provided through various projects, contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements, including the Miner Safety and Health Training Program – Western United States. These training centers provide a joint approach to reducing injuries to miners and other workers in mining operations.

Despite many technological and work environment advances, mining remains one of the most challenging and demanding occupations in the United States. In 2021, the fatality mining rate of 16.15 is nearly four times the rate for all industries as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (LS).

There were 301,240 workers in the Mining Sector in 2021, according to data collected by the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from mine operators and independent contractors.
In 2020, MSHA reported 12,714 mining operations in the United States. MSHA data for the same period shows 29 fatalities, with the industry average from 2010-2020 being 35 annual fatalities. MSHA reports 3,193 nonfatal lost-time injuries occurring in 2020, which represents a decrease of 733 nonfatal lost-time injuries from 2019; the overall nonfatal lost-time injury rate for 2020 was 1.42 per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. According to data from the NIOSH Mining Program and MSHA, the rate of nonfatal lost-time underground injuries in 2020 was greater than the rate for surface injuries (2.67 vs. 1.18 per 100 FTE workers).

Sprains or strains were the most frequently reported type of injury, followed by cuts, lacerations, and punctures; fractures and chips; and contusions and bruises. Respiratory diseases, hearing loss, cumulative musculoskeletal injuries, and traumatic injuries are critical health concerns within the mining industry. Of all nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses reported to MSHA between 2009 and 2013, nearly one-third (29%) were musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The median number of days lost, which is the sum of days lost from work and the number of days with restricted work activity, was 21 for all reported MSD cases.

Miners experience incidences of respiratory illness and disease that are much higher than the general population, and the standards for exposure of airborne hazards continue to be lowered based on new medical evidence. MSHA compliance data demonstrates overexposures to these airborne contaminants at rates as high as 24% on a single shift sample. Overexposure to respirable coal dust can lead to coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), and exposure to respirable silica dust can lead to silicosis —both are irreversible, disabling, and potentially fatal lung diseases.

Ground falls remain a leading cause of fatalities in underground coal mines. From 2000 through 2020, a total of 98 ground fall fatalities and 6,429 non-fatal days lost (NFDL) injuries were reported by MSHA. The injuries and fatalities attributable to ground control failures are distributed among causes ranging from pillar failures to rock outbursts to insufficient standing support. Coal rib stability will continue to become a greater challenge as mining operations move into deeper reserves and encounter more adverse multiple seam stress conditions.

Mining has a higher prevalence of hearing loss than any other major industry. A NIOSH analysis of over 1.9 million audiograms from 2006 to 2015 showed that 24% of miners had a material hearing impairment versus 16% for all industries. Mining continues to have the highest prevalence of noise overexposure (61%) according to a NIOSH analysis of the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

According to MSHA data from 2000-2020, sixty-seven mine workers have been killed and 52 injured as a result of fires or explosions in underground coal workings. Float coal dust, generated during coal mining, serves as fuel that can propagate an explosion flame, and the explosibility of float coal dust is controlled by applying “rock dust”—i.e., ground limestone dust—on all mine surfaces as an inerting agent.

From 2000 to 2020, roughly 970 methane ignitions occurred during coal mining, with a third occurring during longwall mining. Ventilation airflow is the primary means of controlling methane levels, but such controls are challenged by more rapid mine development that liberates greater methane quantities, larger mining areas that create greater exposed coal surfaces, and larger job areas under the influence of a single ventilation district. From 2000 to 2020, nearly 900 fires were reported during coal mining that resulted in three fatalities.


The Miner Safety and Health Training Program – Western United States enhances the quality and complements the availability of health and safety training for miners in the Western United States. Availability includes the frequency, geographic considerations, channels or partners of dissemination, culturally and/or educational appropriate training material, and other characteristics of a successful training program.

Several of the main objectives of the training program include:

  • address the training needs of mining personnel in the Western United States,
  • develop and deliver health and safety training to miners (NOTE: this excludes training in emergency response and hazmat materials) through qualified instructors and faculty,
  • develop/offer and implement “train the trainer” courses,
  • provide qualified instructors and faculty to conduct the training, and increase the number of trainers,
  • evaluate training effectiveness and impact on reducing injuries and illnesses to miners, and
  • coordinate with existing training programs, like those offered by MSHA and MSHA-funded state programs, and in partnership with industry, miners, and other agencies.

The program aims to translate research into workplace practices that advance the safety and health of miners and other workers involved in mining operations and increase the quantity of qualified mine safety and health trainers in the Western United States.

Training Program Description

Colorado School of Mines

The Energy, Mining and Construction Industry Safety (EMCIS) Program at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) is devoted to the development of effective training and education programs for workers engaged in mining operations throughout the Western United States. With mining still at its core, CSM operates its training center to enhance the quality and availability of health and safety training for Western mine workers. Goals include providing workers with relevant knowledge regarding hazards associated with working on mine sites and effective controls for reducing the risk of injuries and illnesses.

CSM offers a comprehensive approach to meet the safety and health training needs of the Western mining industry by providing a high quality, interactive training experience that targets several audiences: mine workers, trainers, safety and health professionals, mine management, and mining engineering and geology students.

Depending on the training activity, CSM utilizes a combination of teaching pedagogies, including classroom discussion, hands-on exercises, games and group activities, and participation at the Edgar Underground Mine, as well as opportunities for online delivery, for these courses which enhance student engagement, understanding, and knowledge retention.

CSM has continued to improve and expand upon the initial training program by focusing extensively on MSHA-required training; being responsive to industry needs for professional and specialized training; and by creating educational experiences for university students, faculty and staff.  Current efforts are focused on three specific aims:

  1. The implementation of a safety and health training program is intended to satisfy MSHA requirements as specified under 30 CFR Part 48 for New Miner and Annual Refresher training in both surface and underground operations and MSHA trainer certification. The primary focus of this training program is to meet the needs of underserved groups, such as suppliers, contractors, consultants, equipment manufacturers, and small mine operators. This aim is also designed to supplement and enhance current training activities sponsored through the Colorado MSHA State Grants program. This project aim will be facilitated through specific program components including:
    • MSHA Part 48 New Miner Courses (Surface and Underground);
    • MSHA Part 48 Annual Refresher Courses;
    • MSHA Part 48 Instructor Courses; and
    • Part 48 training tools.
  2. The development and implementation of an innovative and interactive safety and health educational experience for students, faculty and staff at a variety of western universities that utilizes effective pedagogies to instill an appreciation of the importance of a safety ethic within degree granting programs related to mining engineering, economic geology, geological engineering and related extractive industries. A major focus is facilitating innovative education experiences and learning activities at the Colorado School of Mines and other western mining schools. This project aim is facilitated through safety and health for-credit courses, short courses, guest lectures, and other educational experiences.
University of Arizona

Reducing fatalities, injuries, and occupational illnesses continues to be a significant challenge for the mining industry, despite on-going improvements. To address this challenge, companies are increasingly focused on defining competencies for task training to improve safety outcomes. Building on past NIOSH miner training grants, the Western Mining Safety and Health Training Resource Center at the University of Arizona developed the Learning Laboratories (LLs) program, which is an industry-academic collaboration involving three universities and more than 20 mining organizations and operators representing over 20,000 mine workers in the Western US. The LLs program provides needs-specific training resources and mentorship for miners, trainers, supervisors, and health and safety (H&S) professionals across all sectors of the industry. Operators participating in the LLs program have shown measurable improvements in H&S outcomes, including reductions in both average injuries and days lost, up to 23.6% and 72.5%, respectively. Building upon these successes, the Center expanded their LLs program through three specific aims:

  1. Provide new pathways for training and research through collaborative learning laboratories. The LLs program offers a mechanism for collaboration between researchers, safety professionals, and industry trainers. The program will increase partnerships with trainers serving contractors, small operators, and other underserved groups and MSHA State Grants programs. The Center is working with investigators in academia and at NIOSH to identify industry needs, deploy new and existing training materials, facilitate synergistic research agendas, and evaluate outcomes. The program will enhance technology transfer by streamlining deployment of new computer and app-based materials to industry partners for use in training and continued development.
  2. Improve health training. By adding new health modules to the training materials, many NIOSH National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) cross-sector topic areas are being addressed, including chronic disease, musculoskeletal health, hearing loss prevention, respiratory health, and heat strain. The center is also working to incorporate Total Worker Health topics such as mental health, substance abuse, and fatigue.
  3. Develop, extend, and integrate a continuum of training resources. Successful training products developed by the Center, NIOSH, and LL partners are in the process of being upgraded to incorporate new content, capabilities, and interoperability. The program is developing resources addressing all levels of trainer capability, from easily integrated tabletop games to computer-based synthetic learning environments (SLEs). The Center is improving the accessibility of training and evaluation technologies, particularly for trainers serving smaller operators and at worksites lacking sophisticated computer hardware, using app-based mobile games and streaming services.

Fiscal Year (FY) Extramural Research Program Highlights

Program achievements featured in the Extramural Research and Training Program Annual Reports

Funding Opportunity Announcements

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Additional Resources