NIOSH Receives R&D 100 Award 2006 for Innovation in Mining Technology


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
November 3, 2006

On October 19, 2006, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and partners received the prestigious R&D 100 Award 2006 from R&D Magazine, NIOSH’s second such recognition in as many years. The award honored the development of an innovative new device in coal mining safety.

The device, the Coal Dust Explosibility Meter – Model 100, significantly speeds the ability of coal mine operators, coal miners, and safety inspectors to determine if certain conditions exist in an underground coal mine that could lead to a potentially deadly and devastating coal-dust explosion, and if so, to take quick corrective action.

“The Coal Dust Explosibility Meter represents an important step forward in hazard recognition technology,” said Dr. John Howard, Director of NIOSH. “It is a great example of how research partnerships can bring forward innovative technologies that create a safer workplace for miners.”

Research has shown that mixing a sufficient quantity of inert rock dust with deposited coal dust will prevent dust explosions in underground coal mines. A critical part of this process is to assure, through sampling, that the appropriate balance of the applied limestone with the deposited coal dust is maintained throughout the mine entries.

The new meter developed by NIOSH and its partners represents a significant advancement in two ways over previous means for measuring rock dust: 1) It provides an immediate indication as to whether the dust mixture remains potentially explosive, where existing methods take a minimum of 24 hours to process at a remote surface laboratory. 2) It accounts for variations in the size of coal dust particles, a significant factor that influences the explosibility of the coal dust and the amount of rock dust necessary to prevent dust combustion. Existing procedures do not have that capability.

The meter is easy to carry and simple to operate. It is a handheld, battery-powered device that uses infrared light and a photo-detector to measure the relative concentrations of rock and coal dust in the dust mixture, as well as the potential for explosion based on the size of the particles. A dust sample is taken from the entry area of the mine, mixed with a drying agent, and transferred to a sample cup. The mixture is pressed against the lens of the meter. An indicator light turns green if the mixture of dust is safe, or red if the mixture is potentially explosive. This immediate feedback allows the mine operator to adjust the dust mixture by adding more rock dust to render the coal dust inert.

The device was developed by NIOSH researcher Michael Sapko, working in collaboration with the Geneva College Center for Technology Development. The center made prototypes of the meter. The device will be manufactured and marketed commercially by H&P Prototyping Inc. (Mention of a specific company or product does not represent a commercial endorsement by NIOSH.)

For 44 years, the annual R&D 100 Award has honored excellence in technological innovation. This is not the first time NIOSH has received the honor. In 2004, NIOSH received the R&D 100 award for the Personal Dust Monitor, which provides immediate measurement of respirable, airborne coal mine dust in underground coal mines. That innovation improves the ability of coal mine operators and coal miners to reduce exposures that can lead to coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

Winners of the award are decided by a panel of independent technical experts who determine what products have been among the top 100 most technologically significant ideas of the year. Other past winners have included 3M, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Texas A&M, Dow, Toyota, Procter & Gamble, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

A technical report describing the Coal Dust Explosibility Meter is available on the NIOSH web page at For more information on NIOSH research and technical assistance for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths in mining, call the toll-free NIOSH information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674) or visit the NIOSH web page at

Page last reviewed: August 6, 2012