Evaluation of Relevance and Impact of the NIOSH Mining Program
The committee was charged with assigning, on a scale of 1-5, numeric scores for relevance and impact in the workplace in its evaluation of the overall performance of the Mining Program. The scoring criteria were developed by the Framework Committee and are provided in Box 4-1. The committee first considered the relevance and impact of each of the program’s seven strategic research areas, then considered the program as a whole. The period evaluated is from 1997, when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assumed responsibility for mining health and safety research, through 2005. This chapter provides a programmatic assessment of relevance and impact. A more detailed evaluation of the Mining Program’s seven strategic research areas is found in Part II (Chapters 8-14) of this report.
Statistics reveal major reductions in the number and rate of illnesses, accidents, and injuries. Technology advances are evident in several areas including mining methods, respirable dust control, ground failure prevention, methane emission control, disaster prevention, and equipment safety. Improvements and advancements are the combined result of the efforts of mine operators and workers, government enforcement agencies, equipment manufacturers, and research and development work by government agencies and universities. The 1995-1997 transition of mining health and safety research from the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) to NIOSH represented a massive reduction or reallocation of personnel, facilities, and programs. The Mining Program not only maintained a research focus on persistent health and safety problems, but initiated new research to address emerging issues.
The committee recognizes that the Mining Program mission cannot be accomplished “through a focused program of research and prevention” alone. Workplace improvements require, among other things, implementation of research results into practice. The Mining Program is unable to force change because it cannot require or enforce implementation of its recommendations. The Mining Program does have
positive impact, as evidenced by industry acceptance of NIOSH recommendations, either voluntarily or through enabling legislation and the passage of regulations. The continued existence of a political climate favorable to the research programs and to implementation of recommendations is vital.
It is often impossible to document statistically the impact of Mining Program research. This is especially true in the case of recent recommendations related to the prevention of illnesses with long latency periods. Further, attributing all credit to the Mining Program for workplace improvement may not be appropriate. Regardless, based on the evidence reviewed, the committee concludes that the quality and quantity of Mining Program research outputs are often quite high and are connected to improvements in workplace practices (intermediate outcomes) and to potential reduction of workplace illness and injury (end outcomes).
Based on the scoring rationale presented in Box 4-1, the committee assigns the following scores:
An extensive review (NRC, 1995) of the former USBM identified specific recommendations that are as pertinent today as they were in 1995. The NIOSH Mining Program has made good progress in following up on the recommendations especially in the areas of technology transfer and use of electronic media. Additional effort is needed in training and developing junior-level personnel to eventually replace more experienced researchers, and utilizing outside technical expertise through carefully controlled contract research. Because the health and safety responsibilities of the USBM are now held by NIOSH, the Mining Program should address these recommendations.
EVALUATION OF RELEVANCE
The Mining Program combines research in areas of long-standing concern (for example respiratory disease, ground failure, traumatic injury prevention, and disaster prevention) and research arising from changing mining conditions (including noise-induced hearing loss prevention, repetitive injury prevention, surveillance, chemical hazards, and training). Emphasis in these newer areas is well placed.
Research has resulted in major reductions in the incidence and severity of a variety of hazards. However, there is a need for research projects that cut across multiple Mining Program research areas. For example, increased production and productivity in underground coal mines can result in greater methane emissions, dust, and exposure of larger roof areas. Health and safety problems have to be
approached in a systems framework encompassing all three issues. A review of its research portfolio reveals that the Mining Program, by targeting new research in traditional areas, responds to the needs identified through surveillance and intervention research. Given the fairly fixed nature of total and discretionary resources, the committee concludes that the Mining Program has attempted to reallocate resources, albeit in a limited manner, to continue control research on heritage problems while initiating surveillance research on emerging problems.
The committee believes the Mining Program conducts research relevant to a safer and healthier workplace. However, the committee is concerned about how some intermediate goals and activities move the program toward the achievement of top-level goals. For example, in respiratory disease prevention research, intermediate goals regarding dust exposure control in longwall faces and diesel emission exposures in underground mining could be more ambitious, particularly in view of advances already made in both areas. In another example, the committee notes that hearing loss can result from exposures outside the workplace and that the isolation of such complicating factors should be considered by NIOSH in its evaluation of program effectiveness. In mine disaster prevention and control research, the committee is of the opinion that, in addition to research on control of ignition, explosions, fires, and other events having disaster potential, goals need to be set for increasing the possibility of escape. Despite these comments, the committee concludes that the Mining Program addresses major health and safety issues with a coherent integrated plan to produce stated outcomes.
The committee deliberated extensively on the relevance of the program to workers, including vulnerable populations, workers in small mines, and contract workers. It is difficult for the Mining Program to appropriately balance the needs of such diverse populations. The committee concludes the Mining Program, in cooperation with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and mining companies, has strived with limited success to achieve a balance among these factors.
The Mining Program is involved in education and training research projects that explore issues such as the training needs of different mining populations and the aging workforce. The program is also involved in service functions that include developing and providing access to training materials. The attention given to the education and training needs of an evolving workforce is timely in view of the potentially large number of new and young entrants into the industry. Attempts to capture and transfer the knowledge of experienced miners to new miners are likely to be useful. The Mining Program is on the right track in identifying the Internet as an efficient means of disseminating health and safety information, but given the number of small mines and the special needs of miners and supervisors in that setting, the use of other methods (CDs, videotapes, print materials)
should be continued. While it is true that individual investigators may be involved in developing appropriate tools to facilitate the translation of research to practice, it is not clear that they are the best resources in terms of the final product. The committee recognizes that without an effective technology transfer program, many research results may be under- or even unutilized. Based on the percentage of the total Mining Program budget allocated to the translation of research to practice (r2p) as compared to money spent on marketing, distribution, and sales support in other industries and programs (see Chapter 2), Mining Program resources available for technology transfer are very modest.
On the basis of its deliberations, the committee concludes that Mining Program research is in high-priority areas and adequately connected to improvements in the workplace. It is moderately involved in transfer activities. The committee has determined that a relevance rating of 4 on the five-point scale proposed by the Framework Committee is appropriate (see Box 4-1). The program’s focus and achievements at the workplace preclude a lower score. Recognizing that the Mining Program is still evolving in a number of areas, the committee developed numerous recommendations for NIOSH to consider under each of its strategic and intermediate goals for the enhancement of program relevance. The committee concludes a higher score would not be appropriate.
EVALUATION OF IMPACT
Evaluating the impact of the Mining Program on workplace health and safety is challenging. Though there have been marked decreases in fatalities, injuries, and illness and great improvements in health and safety conditions in the industry, it is not easy to isolate the contributions of the Mining Program from those of others, particularly of mine workers and management.
When workplace health and safety improvements could not be attributed directly to the Mining Program, the committee tried to determine if practices, procedures, guidelines, and/or equipment were in some way improved as a result of Mining Program activities. As has already been stated, implementation of Mining Program recommendations or products may be impeded by external factors. If the committee felt outputs and transfer activities had the potential to impact the workplace, credit should be given the Mining Program. The committee also considered how to assess the contributions of long-standing research programs, some dating back to the USBM. Moving research from concept to completion can be a long process, but the time to move from completion to widespread implementation
can be even longer. Therefore, the committee decided to consider some research predating NIOSH’s control of mining research.
Part II (Chapters 8-14) contains an extensive discussion of Mining Program efforts and assessment of their impacts in specific research areas. A brief discussion of research area impacts is included below.
Respiratory Disease Prevention
The Mining Program’s principal intervention approach to respiratory disease prevention is engineering control by prevention, removal, suppression, isolation, and dilution of dust. Research in some areas is long-standing. Progress in bringing ambient coal dust concentrations to below mandated levels is significant. The Mining Program and the Personal Dust Monitor (PDM) Partnership are in the final stages of field evaluation of the PDM. There is general agreement among mine management, labor organizations, and MSHA that the PDM has great potential to monitor dust exposures and help determine the control and avoidance measures necessary to guard against exposure to high dust concentrations in the workplace. In 2004, the PDM won one of the 100 research innovations award from R&D Magazine (NIOSH, 2005a).
The PDM Partnership itself is a valuable intermediate outcome of Mining Program efforts. Parties who will be involved in PDM implementation—labor unions, workers, industry, the instrument manufacturer, and MSHA—are working together. Former USBM respirable dust laboratories are maintained and kept up-to-date by the Mining Program. The full-scale longwall dust gallery, the full-scale continuous miner dust gallery, and dust instrumentation facilities are considered state of the art and have been duplicated by agencies around the world. The Mining Program continues to have significant impact in respirable dust control in mines and thereby in reducing of the prevalence of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP). Details on respiratory disease prevention research can be found in Chapter 8.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Prevention Research
Noise-induced hearing loss prevention research within the Mining Program is relatively new. End outcome data will not be available for many years. Even so, a few activities have the potential to reduce hearing loss among workers. For example, hearing loss simulator software developed by the Mining Program has been incorporated by MSHA into its training program; the Mining Program has promoted the “roll-and-hold” technique for the insertion of foam ear plugs, which has the potential to reduce noise exposure by as much as 9 dB; and surveillance projects are well directed toward relating exposure to noise sources. Additionally,
NIOSH has developed a mobile hearing loss detection lab that can be transported to any worksite to conduct hearing clinics for up to four persons at a time. Trained technical personnel administer hearing loss tests and provide feedback on test results. This mobile lab has instrumentation to perform a wide range of research tasks. These are indicators that program outputs are likely to contribute to hearing loss protection in miners. Further details on hearing loss prevention research can be found in Chapter 9.
Cumulative Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Research
The Mining Program has renewed attention to the application of human factors engineering to reduce cumulative injuries and has developed facilities, such as the human performance research mine, the motion analysis capture system, and the human factors engineering laboratory, to conduct its research. The Mining Program has worked with the International Union of Operating Engineers to collect data on ergonomic-related factors for use in research on improved ergonomic design of mobile equipment. No data exist to document impacts on workplace health and safety, but several program outputs, such as a low-height shuttle car seat design, a more ergonomically designed truck seat, and improved dragline workstations, have been implemented. One manufacturer reports that the program-designed shuttle car seat is preferred by operators. Of particular note is the NIOSH partnership with an operating surface coal mine in reducing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The Mining Program provided guidance, direction, and training on customizing and implementing a sound ergonomic process with the objective to reduce injuries and proactively avoid problems.
The Mining Program has generated outputs of value to stakeholders, as determined by their acceptance by mining companies and manufacturers. Details on cumulative musculoskeletal disorder prevention research can be found in Chapter 10.
Traumatic Injury Prevention Research
The high incidence of accidents and injuries due to accidental contact with objects or substances indicates the need for monitoring and sensing devices to provide visual and audio alarms to nearby operators and workers. The Mining Program created an informal partnership with equipment and sensor manufacturers, industry, and MSHA and developed a proximity warning device with the potential to reduce these kinds of accidents. MSHA and the Mining Program jointly disseminate information on this device, and MSHA is actively working on getting the device used in the workplace. The device was described as very useful by the representative of a mining company with several large open-pit mines in the West.
Other research has involved initiating a number of surveillance projects on chemical hazards to characterize issues and hazards, and the reduction of injuries associated with haulage and machinery through products and services adopted by the industry and MSHA. There is great potential to improve safety conditions in the industry. Although the Mining Program has developed successful partnerships related to traumatic injury prevention, it has not been as successful in communicating research results to the entire mining community, especially individual mining operations.
Details on traumatic injury prevention research can be found in Chapter 11.
Mine Disaster Prevention Research
The Mining Program has contributed to disaster prevention research through the development of practices and procedures aimed at disaster prevention and enhancing escape and rescue in the event of a disaster. In particular, the development of the dust explosibility meter should lead to the rapid determination of the adequacy of rock dusting. The training module for effective communication with and by miners in the event of an emergency has been widely used by the companies in their training programs. Directional lifelines for enhancing escape from underground mines are increasingly being used. In addition, some research has led to changes in MSHA rules and regulations that directly impact the workplace. Currently, however, only some of the highest-priority areas in mining disaster prevention are addressed through Mining Program research. Research in areas of disaster prevention and response such as communications, miner self-rescue, and emergency response need to be strengthened. The committee judges current mining disaster prevention research to be focused on lesser priorities.
Details of mine disaster prevention research can be found in Chapter 12.
Ground Failure Prevention Research
The Mining Program is responsible for rock safety engineering and reduction of injuries and fatalities caused by rock fall, collapse, and other rock failure events associated with mine excavations. Through collaborative efforts of the Mining Program and mining companies, the initiative, started under the USBM, has resulted in major reductions of injuries and fatalities caused by rock bursts in underground metal mines. Recent development and testing of more than 40 new roof support technologies using the mine roof simulator has substantially improved safety for underground miners. The development and wide distribution of computer software and the development of mobile roof support technology have improved longwall and room-and-pillar operations. The development of rock mass rating
criteria has led to safer span widths for underground metal or nonmetal and coal mines. The apparent reduction in rock fall fatalities supports the conclusion that progress is being made toward reduction of hazards. Other Mining Program research activities are likely to provide additional safety benefits.
Development of systems to monitor ground movement and roof falls, better understanding of the effect of blasting on excavation perimeter stability, development of rock surface treatments, and other efforts are likely to provide important new knowledge. Well-accepted intermediate outcomes or end outcomes have not yet been documented. Unfortunately, falls of rock still take a heavy toll in injuries and fatalities, and additional effort is needed to reduce these incidents. An area that requires more attention is r2p.
Details on ground failure prevention research can be found in Chapter 13.
Surveillance, Training, and Intervention Effectiveness Research
A number of technology transfer activities have resulted in outputs already in use in the industry. The Mining Program is developing and distributing many training materials, and the committee heard from several stakeholders regarding NIOSH-developed training materials and resources. For example, Mining Program training materials are used at MSHA’s National Mine Health and Safety Academy, which distributes them to the mining community through its regular distribution channels; several aggregate mining companies have incorporated a Mining Program interactive training program aimed at reducing hazards among construction, maintenance, and repair workers into their Part 46 (CFR Title 30) training; and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania uses a Mining Program-developed computer-based training simulation program for emergency command center leaders in its annual refresher training work. Additionally, on the basis of a survey of safety specialists from mining companies, trainers, and MSHA, the Mining Program developed 10 training videos covering underground and surface mining topics that are used widely in the mining industry. The Mining Program is a major participant and contributor to several mine health and safety and miner training conferences and symposiums.
Although additional work is needed to create a better surveillance system, the Mining Program has contributed to the generation, distribution, and wide use of good-quality training resources for the mining industry. Working closely with a number of stakeholders during development has resulted in wide acceptance of these materials. Research activities are likely to result in improvements in workplace protection.
Details on surveillance, training, and intervention effectiveness research can be found in Chapter 14.
Rationale for Scoring Impact
The contributions of the Mining Program to improvements in workplace health and safety are considered major in some areas (respirable disease prevention, traumatic injury prevention), moderate in some areas (hearing loss prevention, ground failure prevention), and likely in a number of areas (disaster prevention, musculoskeletal injury prevention). Mining Program outputs are evaluated, accepted, and incorporated into stakeholder operations, and training outputs find wide use in the industry. The Mining Program is engaged in technology transfer activities. Based on the Framework Committee criteria for scoring (see Box 4-1), a score of 4 for impact is appropriate. A lower score would not acknowledge the fact the Mining Program has gone beyond mere production of outputs. A higher score is not justified because outcome data are not available for several research areas. Though some outputs have the potential to improve future health and safety conditions in the workplace, the path from output to outcome is affected by external factors.