Synthesis of Recommendations
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Program makes essential contributions to the enhancement of health and safety in the mining industry. The recommendations provided in this report are focused on further expanding these contributions. The Mining Program should be leading discussions on mine health and safety improvements.
Recommendations specific to the Mining Program’s seven strategic research areas are provided in Part II (Chapters 8-14) of this report. This chapter is a synthesis of recommendations applicable program-wide.
PROGRAM PLANNING AND STRATEGIC GOALS
The ultimate goal of the Mining Program should be the complete elimination of mining occupational disease and injury. To move closer to this goal, strategic and intermediate goals and attendant objectives should be made more challenging and innovative. The Mining Program should accelerate the development of engineering controls aimed at meeting MSHA personal exposure limits for mining-related hazards. Strategic thought should be given to stakeholder needs so that intended and likely end users are clearly identified as research is conceptualized. The Mining Program should continue to develop new technologies and enhanced training programs, but the latter should be strengthened to recognize and correct substandard conditions and practices that contribute to mine accidents. While research on issues associated with coal mining continues to be of high priority,
research in other mining sectors should also be emphasized. Strategic planning should occur on a regular basis to discuss potential Mining Program responses to emerging trends in production and processes. To maintain a viable research program at reasonable cost, NIOSH and the Mining Program should ensure the permanent availability of the Lake Lynn Facility.
The Mining Program should take a more proactive approach to identifying and controlling hazards. At present, the Mining Program sets most of its research priorities in response to stakeholder input or events, which helps ensure the applicability of the resulting research outputs. However, using surveillance data in combination with expanded external input to identify key priorities would help the Mining Program develop a more proactive approach to hazard identification and control.
The Mining Program interacts with numerous researchers, regulators, and other stakeholders and goes to great lengths to establish successful and mutually beneficial relationships. The following recommendations are intended to improve these interactions.
The Mining Program should increase interaction with other NIOSH programs, including the Respiratory Disease Program, and individual programs within the Division of Safety Research and the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies. Ideally, research personnel with medical, epidemiological, engineering, geological, and industrial hygiene experience should work together as a research team to help address workplace issues including work organization research. Additionally, full advantage should be taken of NIOSH’s Mine Safety and Health Research Advisory Committee (MSHRAC) by adequately challenging it with substantial assignments. MSHRAC’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations should be considered more fully in the Mining Program’s decision-making process.
Interaction with Regulators
The committee recognizes the high level of cooperation between the Mining Program and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and notes this partnership is essential for advancements in miner health and safety. Based on presentations from the acting director and others at MSHA (Dye et al., 2006),
the committee believes the Mining Program should enhance interaction with MSHA in areas where research needs are closely allied to MSHA’s legislative and shorter-term requirements associated with enforcement, rulemaking, education and training, and technical assistance. The effect of regulatory measures on the reduction of mining injuries and illnesses should be evaluated and considered in program planning.
Partnering with specific mining companies is beneficial and key to technology transfer, but efforts should be made to partner more broadly such that guidelines and processes are most relevant to the entire mining community. Further, more partnering with manufacturers of specialized mining and mineral processing equipment (e.g., dust and noise control equipment) would be beneficial.
Partnerships with universities should be pursued to develop training materials for mining engineering students and occupational or environmental health students, similar to the way evidence-based lessons are communicated to medical students. Additional stakeholders, such as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, should be added to the Mining Program’s list of collaborating professional associations, and partnerships should be sought with those giving voice to the needs of vulnerable populations. The Mining Program should work with international partners to determine the most effective regulatory and work practices. The extent to which the Mining Program should directly assist developing countries in evaluating exposures should be determined and a program developed to prioritize requests if this area is funded.
The Mining Program should fully utilize outside technical expertise through a vibrant extramural and contract research program. This would serve to broaden the knowledge base and the overall effort toward achieving Mining Program goals. An extramural research program may prove especially vital given the critical need to increase capacity in mining health and safety.
The Mining Program should place greater emphasis on outputs preferred by mining operators, miners, and other nontechnical users. Through systematic but small-scale formative evaluation, the Mining Program should learn more about current information-seeking behavior, media use, and sources of influence in the
personal decision making of its stakeholders. The quality of outputs for nontechnical users should similarly be determined. Feedback from representative members of potential user groups should be gathered to assess and improve prototypes of outputs prior to release. Measures of output quality should be considered for collection and tracking.
SURVEILLANCE AND MONITORING
The committee considers the collection of surveillance data of utmost importance in monitoring worker health and safety conditions and determining the effectiveness of Mining Program activities. The Mining Program should make better use of MSHA and other existing surveillance data and work to make these surveillance programs more robust. For example, the demographic survey data of mine workers should ideally be collected annually to allow for longitudinal analysis. An improved surveillance system would allow the Mining Program to evaluate intervention effectiveness, which should be incorporated into all its strategic goals.
More robust and better monitoring methods of in situ safety conditions in mines should also be developed. Research is needed to minimize safety risk to underground workers and evaluate the potential for damage to surface facilities such as dams, buildings, pipelines, road cuts, and other structures whose failure could cause injury to persons on or near mine property. Recent advances in remote sensing, telemetering, and diagnostic methods need to be evaluated, improved, and made known to mine operators for timely detection and avoidance of underground and surface mine hazards.
To aid in tracking research and training effectiveness, the Mining Program should think of collaborative research as a type of output with the potential to result in intermediate outcomes. These interactions should be tracked and regularly reported. Monitoring and reporting of all intermediate outcomes should be expanded and improved so that stakeholder responses to program outputs are understood. Measures of output quality, as well as quantity, should be collected and tracked.
TRAINING PROGRAMS AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER
Just as the committee recommends surveillance be incorporated into all relevant research areas, training should be incorporated into the strategic goals of all research areas. To improve training effectiveness, the Mining Program should determine the likely end users of its research results. Technology transfer could be enhanced by targeting mine operators and workers who effectively influence the decisions of others. A literature-based review of studies concerning the measure-
ment of opinion leadership, the testing of alternatives in this procedure, and the use of sociometric (who-to-whom) network analysis software for easier and more accurate mapping of influence across and within mines is recommended. NIOSH should also review new research on issues of worker empowerment, worker control in education and training, and technological changes and new forms of work organization that significantly change working conditions. Further research should be conducted in worker-centered peer training using a safety systems approach. This research should include the use of worker peer trainers and train-the-trainers models, worker participation in curriculum development including lessons learned from systems failures, workers conducting program evaluations, and worker participation in health and safety program administration. These issues should be taken up by NIOSH project staff with workers and their representatives.
With respect to information dissemination, a more proactive and strategic dissemination agenda is suggested, one that is informed by research about the diffusion of new technologies, processes, and practices. The Mining Program should develop demonstration projects to show the feasibility and effectiveness of interventions. Most Mining Program outputs are useful for small business, but plans for technology transfer of all project outputs should explicitly include how small-business worker populations will be served. To reach this population, the Mining Program should work with MSHA’s Technical Assistance Program. New information about evidence-based health and safety innovations should be disseminated specifically to smaller mines and equipment manufacturers.
EMERGING ISSUES FOR THE MINING WORKPLACE
As part of its charge, the committee considered emerging issues affecting future mine worker health and safety. The Mining Program should stay aware of pertinent current and emerging research, including international research, and be prepared to act on potential health and safety issues. Future workforce issues may differ from current issues, especially as older workers retire and a new, younger workforce enters the industry. To determine future research areas, the Mining Program should continue to work with industry, organized labor, MSHA, academia, and international partners. Both internal and external peer review could be useful for selecting projects.
The committee identified workforce capacity and related issues as the most crucial of emerging issues the Mining Program should deal with, but the committee also considered the physical conditions to which the future mining workforce will be subject. Similar concerns were stated more than 30 years ago during a major revision of the research mission of the U.S. Bureau of Mines (Theodore Barry & Associates, 1972), but it should be noted that the current industry situation is
quite different from the past in terms of operation size, numbers of miners, and technologies in use. Research on the relationships between mining tasks, demands on mine workers, and changing environmental factors is needed. The committee provides the following four general recommendations related to future physical conditions:
As the mining industry becomes more automated, the Mining Program should be prepared to deal with issues associated with increased remote control and automated equipment and systems. Future mining is likely to be carried out under more difficult conditions. Automation is often seen as a means of reducing exposure, but unforeseen consequences of automation should be identified.
To meet expected demand for coal, mining will progress to depths in excess of 600 m. The Mining Program should be prepared to provide recommendations to safeguard health and safety as best strategies for mining deep resources are developed. Environmental and occupational hazards of deeper mines should be evaluated.
The health effects of mixed exposures, such as diesel exhaust, hydrocarbons, and noise, as well as the combined effects of mixed noise (continuous and impulse-impact) environments, need to be addressed.
As the United States increases its reliance on nuclear energy, the extent and effects of radon and radiation exposure in the presence of these other potential chemical agents should also be considered.
The committee is also very concerned about the future performance of the Mining Program itself. The Mining Program should seriously attend to workforce replacement issues expected within its own organization in the short term to ensure a supply of capable researchers as its older researchers retire. Increasing extramural research may be part of the solution. Special attention may be needed to maintain a small but viable core group of professionals within the Mining Program to ensure research in fundamental areas such as strata control, the atmospheric mine environment, injury and disaster prevention, and mining systems is not seriously affected by attrition. To increase the number of individuals with expertise in exposure monitoring and control, the Mining Program should encourage the training of mining engineers in industrial hygiene and the inclusion of mining-specific topics in industrial hygiene training. Future research should focus on combining all sources of data with an intelligent decision-making system, for example, to enable real-time system control decisions made with all relevant monitoring data input. Mine operators and workers need the ability to collectively access the wisdom of the industry and its experts. This type of operation system could facilitate better
decision making regarding a variety of health and safety issues, across the mining industry for all sectors and mine sizes.
The committee recognizes the Mining Program’s positive role in providing new technologies for a safer mining environment and new training materials for the mining industry. The recommendations in this report are offered with the expectation that they will help the program refocus or redirect some of its efforts to more effectively impact the health and safety of the mine worker.