NIOSH Offers Virtual Reality Resource to Help Miners Learn to Navigate Underground


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Christina Spring, (202) 245-0633
(Pittsburgh Area): David Ingram, (412) 386-6547
September 28, 2009

Safety training for new miners enters the 21st century with a computer-based training program now available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This new technology helps to prepare young miners to read mine maps, a critical skill in learning how to navigate the labyrinth of tunnels and to stay safe in underground mines.

Designed to be used in safety training courses that mine operators are required to provide by federal law, the program builds on the principle that young miners who have grown up with video games and other computer applications will find this kind of interactive, game-format training more engaging and more meaningful than traditional classroom lecture and instruction. The program gives the new miner experience in navigating the twists, turns, and network of openings and tunnels of a mine in a safe and realistic way.

“NIOSH is pleased to meet our stakeholders’ needs for innovative safety training tools to serve a new generation of miners,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “By helping to keep miners safe, we help the U.S. mining industry and the mining work force maintain their leadership in the competitive 21st Century global market.”

The computer-based training program was developed by social scientists, training experts, and computer engineers in the NIOSH Office of Mine Safety and Health Research. The NIOSH researchers worked with software developers from a private company that specializes in 3D virtual training software that simulates hazardous situations, to create realistic miner characters and mine animations.

In the program, the game is downloaded to the user’s desktop. Upon opening the game, the user assumes a “first person” role inside a “virtual” coal mine. An unseen narrator instructs the user with voice commands about what to do as the game begins and progresses. The user navigates through the mine by way of a detailed color-coded mine map that opens on the desktop, and the map is available anytime as a reference at the push of a key as the game is played.

The object of the game is for the user to locate specific tools in various parts of the mine and deliver them to a boss. Moving through the “virtual” mine by using the mouse, the user interacts with miners who tell brief stories about activities in the mine and give instructions to help the user stay on track. In the process of moving through the mine, the user also learns the locations for various safety devices such as a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and breathing apparatus. The program can be completed in about two hours, and is available for free download at

In recent safety training classes for new miners where the NIOSH program was used, 92 percent of the 135 new miners trained said that they would like future training to include computer-based scenarios.

NIOSH is also working on advanced training software that would include:

  • A program addressing the knowledge and skills necessary to evacuate a mine during an emergency. The specific challenges will be based on NIOSH research about typical human behavior in mine emergencies.
  • Virtual reality scenarios that include multi-player options so that multiple trainees can enter the mine at the same time via networked computers and communicate possible solutions to each other.
  • Programs that emulate real-world safety tasks for miners underground, such as taking mine gas readings, navigating smoke-filled passages, and donning a breathing apparatus.

Note: In 2010, NIOSH and the nation will celebrate the 100th anniversary of federally funded mine safety research in the United States. NIOSH’s Pittsburgh Research Lab will host a series of events next year to commemorate this centennial. More information about NIOSH mine safety research can be found at

Page last reviewed: August 6, 2012